Animation Talk- The Best of Anime in 2014

2014 is slowly coming to an end and it’s almost time to greet the new year. This past year has been a pretty interesting one for anime with some surprising revivals, interesting experiments, and some major disappointments. There’s been quite a bit of bad but for the most part there’s generally been a lot of good to be had so it’s time to talk about the best of the best when it comes to anime in 2014

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MISCELLANEOUS 

Best Anime Opening- Unravel by T.K.

There’s been a lot of good anime openings this year like Amazing Break for Terraformars, a few done by Back-On, and Moon Pride for Sailor Moon Crystal (and in the case of that last one it’s arguably better than the show itself) but Tokyo Ghoul’s is a standout. It’s a pretty catchy song and has some nice visuals to go with it but more than that, the lyrics to the song perfectly capture Kaneki’s transformation over the course of the series as he struggles between his humanity and his inner ghoul. Opening songs that are actually about the show they’re for rather than to sell a music label are pretty rare and even though there’s been a few others like that this year, this is the one that best understands the spirit of the show it’s for.

Best English Dub- Toradora

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It’s been a good year for dubs, and there’s been a lot of big ones like Sailor Moon, Kill la Kill and of course Attack on Titan, with all of them being successes (or mostly successful in AoT’s case thanks to a certain script writer). With all that the dub that really stood out the most this year was for a show many never expected to see dubbed, and has probably fallen under most everyone’s radar because of it. Toradora has stood the test of time as a series and the dub had some big shoes to fill but the actors really went above and beyond to deliver with a lot of extremely exceptional performances, and really sticking to the heart of what made the show so beloved in the first place. I’ve mentioned this before in my review of the series this year, but even if you’re not particularly big on dubs, it’s definitely one that deserves taking a look at.

Available for streaming on Crunchyroll

Best Character- Favarro Leone (Rage of Bahamut: Genesis)

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Anime’s generally always been filled with fun personalities and this year was no exception but Favarro easily blows away the competition. He’s the kind of lovable rogue that doesn’t really pop up much in modern anime and the show really knows where to take his anti-hero traits and make him likable enough that you can’t bring yourself to hate his guts, even when he’s at his worst. Of course anti-heroes do have at least a bit of hero in theme and as the show progresses he becomes a somewhat more heroic and well layered character while still sticking to the traits that make him so much fun to watch. He’s a shining example of how to do that character type right and hopefully he won’t be the last.

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BEST OF GENRE

 Best Mecha Series- Gundam Build Fighters Try

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Mecha shows haven’t fared to well this year with shows Captain Earth starting out well, but ultimately not going anywhere and Argevollen being a decent war commentary but too slow to grab anyone’s attention. So interestingly rather than so-called “Gundam killer” Aldnoah or even this year’s actual Gundam  series, Try takes the crown. It’s legitimacy as a mecha show is sometimes questioned but it’s hard to deny it’s charms, even if it’s an obvious toy commercial (and a darn good one) and it’s hard also hard to ignore the sheer fun that is plastic models beating the crap out of each other. The show never tries to be anything too ambitious but that’s to it’s favor as where other mecha shows this year failed by not saying enough, this one takes the cake by just being as is.

Available for streaming on Youtube

Best Comedy Series- Monthly Girls Nozaki-kun

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Comedies have done pretty well this year and there’s some pretty good stuff to choose from like Kawai Complex and Gugirri-san but Nozaki-kun is really something special. The show serves as a nice affectionate parody of shojo manga tropes, often putting a spin on some of the different character archetypes, while also not shying away too much from what makes those work. It’s almost always funny, it’s characters are charming and it’s hard to not root for Chiyo getting with Nozaki, even if the show’s not likely to let that happen anytime soon.

Available for streaming on Crunchyroll, Hulu

Best Action Series- Akame ga Kill

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Akame isn’t exactly the best written action show this year, and far from the best animated, but when it comes pure action, this show has some edge. The battles throughout the series are always intense, it’s characters never safe from death (if sometimes too much so) and there’s almost never a moment where something crazy isn’t happening. It’s a non-stop thrill ride from beginning to end, and even if it’s not always as smart as it thinks it is,  it knows how to deliver on over-the-top action

Available for streaming on Crunchyroll, Hulu

Best Slice of Life Series- Shirobako

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Slice-of-life shows have fared just as well as comedies have this year, with the two sometimes intermingling, but Shirobako stands out from the rest of the pack. It’s a pretty nice look into how the anime industry works behind the scenes, and portrays both the creativity and the struggles that come with working in that industry, even if it’s not completely honest about the latter. More than that though, it’s also a nice coming-of-age story for young adults trying to find their place in the world, and the balance between pursuing your dreams and handling reality. The show’s still continuing on into next year so hopefully it can keep it’s momentum going, but for now, it’s looking to be a winner.

Available for streaming on Crunchyroll, Hulu

Best Sci-Fi Series- Knights of Sidonia

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There’s been a lot more notable sci-fi series this year such as World Trigger, Parasyte and Psycho-Pass 2, but most of them have struggled (and in the case of Psycho Pass 2 turned into a non-stop trainwreck). Though while Parasyte is a better show, nothing quite gets sci-fi this year the same way Sidonia does. The world of the series is fascinating, full of mystery and really fun to explore as the show delves into it. It’s completely 3DCG animation actually helps to add to the atmosphere of the show rather than take away from things, and really gives the show the feel of a retro 80’s sc-fi epic, and the show pretty much takes that ball and runs with it.

Available for streaming on Netflix

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BEST SHOWS OF 2014

Best Series(Adaptation)- Parasyte-the maxim & Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works (tie)

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 Adaptations are always mixed in execution throughout the year, and this year especially show as there were a lot of heavy hitters, but while some succeed in finding an new audience, others failed spectacularly with many more being left in the middle of the road. With all that said, these two shows are exceptional adaptations and so much so that it was pretty much impossible for me to choose between one or the other. Parasyte does a good job of modernizing it’s source material while sticking to its strengths, telling the chilling story of Shinichi’s transformation into something not quite human. Tokyo Ghoul covered similar territory, and pretty well at that, but Parasyte has a lot more breathing room to tell that story and it uses it very well, having it all occur gradually while never shying away from violence (which Tokyo Ghoul was a little short on thanks to censorship) and hard hitting tragedy (now if only the musical score was better…)

Fate/Stay Night also takes the best of it’s source material and uses it as a springboard, taking some of the best elements from it’s original three separate storylines, and weaving it into one solid piece of storytelling. The show’s tale of idealism v.s. reality when it comes to heroism is a familar one, and told slightly better by it’s prequel Fate/Zero but while it’s not quite as deep, the show is a much better production with some of the best action sequences this year (though Parasyte’s no slouch in that department either) and great visual direction. Both shows stand as examples that an adaption doesn’t necessarily have to be an exact panel by panel recreation to succeed and hopefully there can be more like these in the near future.

Parasyte available for streaming on Crunchyroll

Fate/Stay Night available for streaming on Crunchyroll, Hulu

 

Best Series (Original)- Rage of Bahamut: Genesis

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This one shouldn’t really come as a surprise to anyone who’s seen my episode reviews of the series on The Fandom Post but I adore this show and it’s really something special. It’s a gigantic love letter to Hollywood cinema in terms of theatrics and an incredibly gorgeous looking production with a fun cast of characters and some solid storytelling. The series never really looks to break the mold in any particular way in terms of genre tropes but it really knows how to have fun with them and takes the best of both worlds by having tons of surface level fun and giving just enough depth to it to make the show hard to dismiss. It’s also a show that has the potential to reach a more casual audience and hopefully Funimation takes the opportunity to capitalize on that. In the meantime though, this series stands as one of the best if not the best for the year and if you haven’t seen it, you should go and correct that mistake immediately.

Available for streaming on Funimation, Hulu

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And there you have it. Some of the best of the best when it come to 2014. This year has been a mixed one but after a slow start it’s ended on a pretty high note in terms of notable shows  and there’s plenty to check out. Now hopefully 2015 proves capable of doing even better.

Review: Ouran High School Host Club- Reverse Harem Charms

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Synopsis: Haruhi Fujioka is a honors student recently transferred to Ouran Academy, a school for the rich and fabulous. One day she accidentally wanders into the school’s host club, which is a group of pretty boys who spend their time serving ladies, and ends up getting indebted to them. She’s forced to join the club and also serves as a host for the girls, while the rest of the club tries to conceal her actual gender.

Review

Ouran is considered one of the classics of the mid 2000’s and the most notable pioneer in the reverse harem genre. It’s a show I’d never quite gotten around to as it’s only in recent years that I’ve taken more of an interest in shojo series, and though I tried it a couple of times in the past that barrier took a while to get past, preventing me from getting that interested in it. Though having now seen a fair share of solid shojo series and a couple of other reverse harem shows, I figured that it was about time to revisit this and give it another go.

Right off the bat, the show gives off a sense of charm that’s hard to ignore with it’s characters. Each of the guys more or less fills a certain archetype (which the show is self aware enough to frequently point out) such as main guy Tamaki being attempting to come off as a “prince”, though really being more of a goofball than anything else, while the twins Hikaru and Kaoru are whimsical trolls. Haruhi herself on the other hand comes across as a pretty down to earth heroine, though she doesn’t always play straight-man to the hi-jinks of the other characters as her general lack of concern over half the things that happen is played for laughs just as much.

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Aww, look at him! He’s so adorable…and deadly. Very deadly

Most of the episodes revolve around the club members helping out their guests with their personal problems or delving into the backstories of the club members. Some of the stories involving the guests are hilarious, others fairly touching and most being a mix between the two. Much of it is pretty standard fare for a harem series, but the show really plays up the reverse aspect of it quite a bit and plays it to the fullest. It doesn’t always knock things out of the park in terms of humor but it’s charming enough to stay fun even when it’s not at its funniest.

However the show is also pretty  good with how it handles some of its drama. Specifically, the club member backstories as each of them has their own hurdles to deal with and being in the club has helped them to broaden their horizons and open up more thanks to Tamaki’s influence. Not all of them are handled that seriously, but a couple of them such as the story behind the twins can be genuinely heartwarming . Despite being the main character, Haruhi’s background isn’t focused on quite as much as the others, but even she is slowly shown to progress from being incredibly straight-laced to learning how to get more enjoyment out of life, which is a theme the show puts a lot of emphasis on.

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Someone just give these two a hug

Interestingly though, what doesn’t get quite as much emphasis on the other hand is the actual romance aspect of the series. Or at the very least not in the way that would usually be expected. A couple of the club members such as Tamaki and Hikaru are shown to be interested in Haruhi over the course of the series (especially Tamaki, who’s fawning over her is constantly used as a joke), but the attraction is generally looked at from their perspective rather than Haruhi’s which is a bit odd for a shojo series. In fact, Haruhi more or less never shows any serious romantic interest in any of the guys (except Tamaki…maybe) and generally doesn’t like to put much emphasis on her gender which is kind of refreshing.

Haruhi herself is actually one of the strongest aspects of the show in that respect, although it does make a couple of missteps to undermine her somewhat. The beach episode where she’s berated by the other club members for stepping in to save a couple of girls from some thugs since she’s a girl as well, comes across as a bit sexist. While it’s obviously meant to demonstrate that she’s not invincible, and her fear of thunderstorms which is introduced in the same episode reinforces that fact, it puts an unnecessary emphasis on her gender that otherwise didn’t really need to be there, and it felt as though the show could have found another way to emphasize that point without taking away that’s generally an incredibly strong example of a heroine. Thankfully it’s the one and only time the show ever brings it up but it’s something that feels unusually problematic for what the show otherwise does with her.

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And just where were YOU when she needed help? Huh, Tamaki?

However, more so than romance related to her, the relationship the show instead decides to focus on the most is the group as a whole. All of the group members have their own problems and the glue that holds them together as people are the other club members, specifically Tamaki. They give off the illusion of a hilarious, but also somewhat broken, dysfunctional family more than anything else although, as the show goes on and how they view each other changes, some of the characters do notice that the illusion’s in danger of being shattered. Unfortunately things wrap up before it can show the end results of that aspect, but it does end on a high note as it highlights the importance of that bond, and how much personal freedom they’ve gained because of it.

BONES, who’s been well known for gorgeous looking shows such as Fullmetal Alchemist and Soul Eater, handled the animation for this series, and it mostly shows as it’s a consistent looking production, although far from their greatest. The character designs are pretty typical for shojo and look a bit dated as a result but the show is generally nice to look it. However the music for the series is mostly forgettable and is hindered by Funimation’s decision to do english covers for the opening theme “Sakura Kiss” and the ending theme “Shissou” as both are pretty badly performed and to the point of being downright skippable.

Funimation’s dub for the series on the other hand is a solid effort, as normally expected of their work in those days. Catlin Glass does a great job of making Haruhi sound androgynous and Vic Mignogna delivers on a spectacularly hammy performance as Tamaki, which has gone on to be one of his most iconic anime roles next to Edward Eric in Fullmetal Alchemist. None of the performances are particularly stand out but all of them are well handled and a lot of fun to watch. Interestingly this show is one of the few instances of a Funimation dub using japanese honorifics and they blend in well for the most part, though the script being so literal occasionally leads to a few jokes being lost in translation though not enough to take away from the dub entirely.

Ouran is one of the most iconic shojo series out there and the most heavily referenced when it comes to any mention of reverse harem stuff. It’s easy to see why the show is so beloved as the characters are pretty fun, and the show itself is a pretty solid comedy. It hasn’t aged perfectly as the designs are a bit dated as well as a couple of view points, but where the show excels it excels well as it’s an entertaining ride, and has the right amount of depth to it to keep it from being forgettable. It’s not a flawless show by any means, but it’s stood the test of time as a classic for good reason, and it’s definitely something worth looking back on.

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Overall: 8.3/10

Available on Hulu, Netflix & Funimation.com

Review: The Legend of Korra Book 4: Balance- Balancing Games

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Synopsis: Broken both physically and psychologically after her battle with Zaheer, Korra returns home to the Southern Water Tribe and spends the next three years recovering. In the meantime a woman named Kuvira has taken charge of the Earth Kingdom, and become a dictator bent on forcing the entire nation to her will. As Korra sets out to stop her she must rise not only to face this challenge, but herself as well

Review

The Legend of Korra has gone through a lot over the course of it’s run and its been a journey of ups and downs. Book 1 was relatively satisfying in making the show seem like a solid successor to the first series while Book 2 brought the franchise  as a whole to some of its lowest points (and lowest ratings which started a whole other slew of problems for it). Book 3 on the other hand was a full return to grace and it seemed like for the first time the series actually had the potential to outdo it’s predecessor. Unfortunately the final book doesn’t quite meet those expectations for a multitude of reasons but still manages to bring a proper end to Korra’s character arc and a relatively satisfying ending for the series a whole.

The name for this book is rather appropriate, not only because of the theme but largely because the season feels as though it’s trying to balance several things at once. On the one hand it’s got Korra’s character arc, on the other it has Kuvira’s threat and then on top of that it’s trying to give development to a slew of other characters while trying to make it all tie together. Needless to say it doesn’t handle that juggling act quite well as it gets certain aspects of it better than others and has more good ideas than knows how to execute th

Starting with the more mishandled parts of the season, is Bolin part in the season. His arc in joining and defecting from Kuvira’s army after seeing she brings more harm than good is an interesting one on paper, but for the most part it doesn’t do much to change him as a character, and if anything kind of makes him look dumb for not realizing sooner that Kuvira was a threat. Varrick getting thrown into the mix and defecting with him does make it a bit more interesting though Varrick’s reason for switching sides feels out of character for him since he’s generally been lovably amoral for the most part, and having him betray her just because she tried to kill him would have worked just as well.

Kuvira herself is also a pretty large misstep for the season as compared to previous villains she doesn’t have a lot going for her. Her motivations are largely unexplained (until the ending) making her come across as a bit one dimensional and bland. She also doesn’t represent enough of a personal threat to Korra as a character as many of her greatest feats of villainy feel to indirect to Korra’s character arc and while there are clearly supposed to be parallels between her and where Korra’s character was for most of the series, the parallels don’t intersect as much as they need to make things work.

Of course with all the bad there’s also good, and for some of the things the season can’t quite juggle there are things it does well. Bringing back Asami’s father and having the two restore their broken relationship was a nice touch and made his sacrifice at the end a touching one, even if he wasn’t in the spotlight enough for there to be much impact. Similarly, Toph’s role in the season is much appreciated as she helps Korra along her road to recovery and also mends her own broken relationships with her daughters which is a nice follow through on that arc from the previous season. Prince Wu’s character development over the season from a self absorbed jerk to a decent politician is also an interesting one though it’s a bit bumpier than some of the stronger character arcs in the season as he’s a bit overly used for humor.

The strongest part of the season is by and large the ending to Korra’s journey as a character. Her road to recovery is a tough one as she’s forced to confront her biggest fear: being powerless. Compared to Aang’s rejection of his destiny as the Avatar in the original series, Korra can only define herself as such and having that sense of power taken away from her physically does a number on her as she desperately tries to find a way to fix her health. However it’s in this powerlessness that for the first time she learns to empathize  with the perspectives of others, including some of her former enemies (which doesn’t work quite as well as the show thinks it does since Zaheer was the only villain the series who actually believed in what he was doing) and eventually confronts her fears by facing the one who took away her sense of power in the first place.

Her strengthened sense of empathy plays a large part in the final battle as rather than a large blown out duel like with Aang and Ozai, it’s by trying to understand Kuvira that she triumphs in the end as the two find their similarities and make peace. Unfortunately this confrontation occurs largely after the bulk of Korra’s character arc is already completed, and Kuvira’s characterization was too limited for most of the season as she mainly just comes across as a generically dictator(though not quite to Ozai’s Darth Siddus levels in the original)so the scene doesn’t work as well as it should thematically. It puts a nice bow on Korra’s journey as a person but most of the conflict throughout the season doesn’t quite carry the sense of scale that a series finale should and especially not compared to the grand finale for the original series.

That said the show does have a pretty notable ending, as it delivers on a sensible but pretty unexpected to actually happen pairing. Korra and Asami’s bond has been subtly built up over Books 3 & 4 and the two had some decent chemistry together compared to most of the couples the show had to offer (well with the exception of Varrick and Ju-Li but then they wrapped things up with that one) though the show actually following through on that seemed like a long shot. However the final scene between Korra and Asami more or less unambigously (there will be those who argue otherwise but the parallels between the scene and the scene confirming Aang and Katara’s romance at the end of the original are pretty much impossible to deny) pairs the two together. Whether it’s the possible start of a relationship or the cementing of one is nicely left up to interpretation but it’s definitely one of the boldest things Nick has ever done.

The Legend of Korra has had some big shoes to fill as it’s predecessor stands as one of the greatest animated shows ever made, and it’s been a hard fit as the show has struggled a lot more in terms of tone and characters due to the bulk of the series being an initially unplanned continuation(and it really showed in Book 2). For all those bumps though it’s had it’s highs as well, and has done a solid job in expanding the world of the franchise as a whole. While the show may end up being remembered more for the last three minutes of the finale than anything else, it’s earned it’s place as one of the most memorable pieces of action animation produced in the west. It’s not nearly as good as the original series as a whole, but its a solid journey and a mostly worthwhile successor.

Overall: 7.6/10

Available on Nick.com