The year that was 2014

Hey what's up? It's Archen from the future. In 2015 I started a year in review section, however I had a few notes for 2014 I wrote up elsewhere. I still remember enough about 2014 to write a recap of this year too. I mix up my anime viewing with old shows, so what I watched this year is a mix of this year, last year, and a few years ago. Thus my year isn't the same as what's current.

I'm out of the loop with the hype train goes, so it's likely I didn't watch the best anime made this year, in this year. This is only my perspective. That said, talking about anime made years ago in a section called "year in review" is stupid, so I'll try to concentrate on anime made this (and last) year.

Idols... I guess they're not going away.

In many respects idols and anime grew up together, or at least grew up at the same time, so it's not like idols are new. Anime always leaned towards otaku. With a decline in popularity, tapping into other otaku cultures seems like a good idea. Which is fine that there are more than a few anime titles dedicated to idols, but as I expected this to run its course, anime keeps pushing idols more and more. They're ubiquitous as maids now, and much like the maid saturation issue, they don't feel like a feature anymore. I wish this trend would be on the decline but I doubt that's going to happen for a long while.

What I don't like about idols, is that "idol" isn't a personality trait. Idols tend to behave a certain way sure, but behavior isn't the same as personality. The occupation rarely (if ever) contributes much to the character, the story, or anime.

Speaking of tapping into otaku cultures, Rail Wars looked to be the anime train otaku paradise.. that turned out very dumb.

Running Out of Things For Anthropomorphic Girls?

Opposite of inserting idols into anime, are anime attempting to transpose girls into some weird environment to pander to other otaku. This birthed the very strange "anthropomorphic whatever" as anime girls genre. This year that's most evident in Arpeggio of Blue Steel. On the plus side, each topics is covered once then done, with the exception of Girls as Battleships which seems oddly more popular than most.

Unfortunately the novelty isn't as clever as shows like to think. It mostly becomes a matter of matching tropes with various technical specs. Cute, but like everything else in the anime world; it's overstaying its welcome.

Surprise of the Year: Invaders of the Rokujyoma

For me a surprise rarely means the show is awesome, it's simply far better than expected. In other words: "I can't believe this doesn't suck." Invaders of the Rokujyoma begins like every other harem disaster, but doesn't push the harem agenda very far. Most girls in the show only have a luke-warm interest in the main male Kotaro. It's a refreshing change that instead of flocks of girls shamelessly throwing themselves at a generic blank slate man, In Invaders they form more sincere friendships and alliances.

I won't say it's much better than your average anime, but it has a certain quality in the character relationships I thought worked far better than most harem anime.

Favorite: Golden Time

I looove Golden Time so much! I had no idea what it was about when I picked it up, and by the third episode I still wasn't sure.:q

Love / Hate: White Album 2

Based off a visual novel, this one initally gave off the vibe of yet another harem anime, but only two girls are involved. The story slowly evolves into a friendship between three students who hardly knew each other not long ago, but two of them fall in love. As things progress it turns into a love triangle. The key aspect in making this one so interesting is a matter of perspective. One girl seems like the legit love interest, until White Album 2 goes back and shows the other girl's perspective. At that point both girls could make the case that they should be the one with Haruki. That makes it more gripping, it's not clear who Haruki who end up with. It could go either way.

Then the last episode upset me. This made me realize how much I'd become emotionally invested in White Album 2, something I don't do often (not to this extent anyway). I recall reflecting on this anime for quite a while after watching it, something I don't do much of either. It takes a good story and characters to stir me up like that, and for that I give White Album 2 credit, even if I wish it would have had a happier resolution.

Also ... (spoiler)

One of the most memorable aspects in White Album 2 is how a very short dialog between Kazuya and Setsuna completely changes the perspective of her character. While things flip back and forth between which girl you may sympathize with, Setsuna was portrayed as the tragic heroin. However with just a few short lines of dialog, that changes. However it's not obvious what her words meant with out a little bit of thought, and it's easy to miss. I can't think of an anime with that kind of subtle turn almost at the end.

Disappointment: Dog and Scissors

I went to an anime convention in Japan, and got a few fliers with this upcoming anime on it. It looked weird, like this girl torments a dog with a scissors or something. Imagine my surprise when I found the show actually titled Dog and Scissors when released. The setup is intriguing. A book obsessed guy is reincarnated as a dog after saving his favorite authors life at the cost of his own. She can read his thoughts, and adopts him. There so much potential in the many directions this could go. Sentimental story about the guy who saved her. Or perhaps the relationship between author and reader. Or an oddball mystery series. Heck, it touches on writing as its own super power, which I liked and thought that could make this show great.

Instead it goes into this weird "romance", but more so seems to be about masochism. Throw in random pointless junk, and obnoxious characters that don't need to be there and you've got a mess. Dog and Scissors may be the biggest disappointment released this year, but my biggest disappointment viewed this year was Arakawa Under the Bridge. I don't have much to say about it aside from it's brilliant potential to comedy weirdness goes nowhere.

Worst Anime Recently My Sister Is Unusual

It's hard to describe the set of features which come together in just the right way to make this show so terrible. Take a ghost who is annoying as hell, possessing a girl who's a total bitch. Then the ghost possesses her, then uses her body to sexually tempt the girl's brother to build "love energy". This somehow also involves a chastity belt which can't be removed, and thus leads to plots of the girl trying not to piss herself. Episodes typically resolve with the girl having an orgasm, indirectly this often involves the brother.

I don't think I need to dress that up to make it look bad. Besides that, the story behind the ghost is never explained, although it appears she knew the brother in the past, then got hit by a truck or something. That's my deduction by watching the animation during the end credits, it's not even in the show itself. You'd think that would have been explained in 12 episodes, but I'm not the kind to look a gift horse in the mouth, and I'm simply grateful it's over.

Other things in Anime (for me anyway)

This year anime fell into three buckets: good, terrible or pointless. It's nothing surprising about good and bad, but I was a little puzzled by the number of titles that didn't seem to go anywhere, to the point where I wasn't sure why they were even made. Counter to that there were a fair number of titles which were pretty mundane, but I liked a lot anyway even if it didn't seem like most other people did. I don't care what anyone says, I loved Witch Craft Works. No Game No Life was fairly popular, but I was surprised to see how many people were hating on it. Which is puzzling because it's clearly not intended to be all that cerebral, yet some people took its lack of logic far too seriously.

I'm softer than I was years ago. I'm forgiving of the faults of anime, because I'm realistic that it's often dumb, cheesy, and increasingly trashy. But it's fun because I let myself enjoy it. Conversely it seems like many people get really down on anime for those same reasons. Did they just realize most anime was like this? I'm not sure whatever ideal anime is in their head is even remotely close to reality, and thus not a good benchmark. Not that I miss 90s style reviews that essentially shower everything with praise either.

Typically I end the year with a title rated as excellent, but this year that didn't happen. In fact the last few weeks of the year I did no reviews. I don't recall why. The year before was Maria Watches Over Us.

In my war with words I'm cautiously declaring victory over "that". This began years ago after adopting writing guidelines by George Orwell. The transition took a while, (and was painful to read) but I think my writing is better for it. The biggest issue was spurious use of "that". It's strange because I'd use it everywhere, maybe even two or more times in the same sentence, when completely unnecessary. It's strange how a word can be easily be inserted yet provide no added value - with the way I write anyway. I still have to go back and police my writing, but "that" only crops up occasionally now.

Character of the Year Koko Kaga
Golden Time

Yes, more of me showering Golden Time with even more praise and worship. Koko reminds me of girls I admired as beautiful, but was thankful I wasn't the one dating them and enduring high levels of craziness. Koko seems like ideal girlfriend material. Beautiful, stylish, affectionate (too much so), and rich. But the underlying truth is that these surface things don't quell a sense of insecurity leading to intense jealousy and clingyness.

What makes Koko so endearing is her clear understanding of her faults, and more so her determination to work on her weaknesses, even if difficult and with seemingly little success. She doesn't sell herself short, but is candid about "the whole package" being less than ideal. However the only reason Koko can be fleshed out as a character, is due to her relationship with her boyfriend - something which would take forever to explain how Banri complicates the situation so well for a wonderful story. It takes a good story to bring out a good character, and Golden Time has both.

2014 Verdict: Good

I'm not sure I'd say the quality was top tier this year, but I enjoyed plenty of shows. I'm still concerned with shows which are a total dud, and anyone with a brain in their head could see they would be. The fact that anime studios make them anyway worries me. But then again I have to tell myself this has been true for pretty much every other year anime has been made.

Anime I Reviewed This Year:

39 reviews in 2014

Lucky Star (weak) Detroit Metal City (good)
Dog and Scissors (meh) Fate/Kaleid Liner Prisma Illya (meh)
Kashimashi: Girl Meets Girl (weak) Divergence Eve (sucks)
Recently My Sister is Unusual (sucks) Golden Time (excellent)
Engaged to the Unidentified (okay) Witch Craft Works (okay)
Arakawa Under the Bridge (meh) Cosplay Complex (weak)
Noucome (weak) Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu (weak)
Kokoro Connect (good) Otoboku (weak)
Arpeggio of Blue Steel (meh) Natsu no Arashi (okay)
Kaleido Star (good) Genocyber (sucks)
Walkure Romanze (meh) Black Butler (meh)
Tenchi Muyo - OVA 3 (sucks) Inugami and Nekoyama (okay)
Nanana's Buried Treasure (okay) Kaleido Star: New Wings (good)
Okami-san and Her 7 Companions (okay) Devil is a Part-Timer (okay)
Rail Wars (meh) Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun (good)
Brynhildr in the Darkness (meh) Wake Up Girls (okay)
Happiness (meh) Invaders of the Rokujyoma (okay)
Melancholy of Haruhi - season 2 (weak) I Couldn't Become a Hero.. (weak)
White Album 2 (good) No Game No Life (good)
Medaka Box (meh)