2014: The Anime Year in Review

It seems that it’s more or less a requirement for experienced anime bloggers to complain that the current season and the current year are the worst ever, a far cry from the glory days of the past. I’m pretty sure that 5 years from now bloggers will be bemoaning the dreadfulness of the 2019 season, as compared to the glory days of, say, 2014. Each year brings us a mountain of crap that is quickly forgotten, plus a few shows that people will remember fondly and even rewatch in future years.

So as usual in my annual review I will mostly ignore the shows that failed (and especially those that didn’t even try) and focus on shows that provided solid entertainment and may have some chance of being remembered fondly in future years.

Outstanding Anime of 2014

Mushishi familySeason 2 of Mushi-shi (Crunchyroll) is a rare example of an anime that aims to be high art. There is no middle ground here: such a show always seems to end up either great or unwatchable. Fortunately this one continues to hit the “great” mark.

Manaka from EDNagi no Asukara (Crunchyroll) (started Fall 2013) had some slow moments but looking back I can’t think of any other show in the past year that affected me as strongly. What starts out looking like a whimsical fairy tale turns into a powerful work of high fantasy.

After workAmagi Brilliant Park is just silly, but it is inspired silliness, perfectly executed and hilarious from beginning to end.
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Chuunibyou 2 Ends

As I originally suspected the second season of Chuunibyou (Crunchyroll) was sort of unnecessary. Strictly from a story-telling standpoint it didn’t add much to what had been said in the first season (Crunchyroll).
Rikka eyecatch
But if something is funny enough, that can be it’s own justification–and the second season is indeed very funny. I applaud the ability of the writers to keep the show laugh-out-loud funny for two seasons. That isn’t easy to do.
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Chuunibyou 2–Anime Early Impressions

When I heard that Chuunibyou was going to have a second season I was more worried than excited. The original series had a perfectly fine ending that seemed to leave no need for a sequel. Furthermore, long-running comedies usually cease to be funny after a while as the writers run out of inspiration.
Scary cauldron
Well the sequel is here and the good news is that it is still hilarious. (Your mileage may vary. This is slapstick comedy and won’t be to everyone’s taste. However as slapstick comedy goes, it rarely gets better than this.)
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Chuunibyou Ends

There are two types of great anime series. (Or, probably, of great TV shows in general, or great movies or great novels.) One type is the “genius” show which is like nothing you have ever seen before with a brilliant original premise and vision. The other kind is the “great craftsman” show which starts with a premise that sounds ordinary or even trite, but executes it so brilliantly that it becomes something wonderful. Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai belongs in the second category.

The show starts out as a slapstick farce, but an unusually good one with perfect timing and superb animation. Then it veers into poignant territory before ending up heartwarming and insightful. The whole story is told with masterful planning and economy. There are no false notes and there is no wasted effort.

(Somebody forgot that a beach episode is supposed to be pointless fan service filler. The beach episode turned out to be the pivot point of the whole story.)
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Chuunibyou–what happened to Rikka’s house?

Fans of Chuunibyou Demo Koi ga Shitai are wondering why, when Rikka returned to her childhood home, there was nothing there but a vacant lot. Wouldn’t it be more natural to find the house there, but with a strange family living in it?

This probably reflects the fact that single-family homes in Japan tend to have very little resale value. Would-be homeowners strongly prefer to buy a new house from a developer or to buy an empty lot and have a house built to their specifications.

So the family probably sold the house to a developer who tore it down to make room for a new home.

This may date back to the very ancient Shinto tradition of tearing down buildings every 20 years or so (or earlier if the owner died) in order to get rid of accumulated impurities. Or maybe it just reflects the Japanese preference to pay extra in order to get the best quality. Buying a used house implies choosing something that’s not exactly what you want in order to save money.

Chuunibyou–Anime Early Impressions

Some shows sound promising in theory but disappoint in execution. Chuunibyou Demo Koi ga Shitai is a different sort of beast. The premise doesn’t sound very promising but in practice it is so hilarious that I would be willing to forgive it a multitude of sins.

And in fact there isn’t much to forgive. This is a pretty high-quality show. It comes from Kyoto Animation, which means the animation quality is outstanding. In fact, if this were done by another studio I think it might very well fall flat. Chuunibyou depends heavily on physical comedy which is quite difficult to do well, either in animation or live action. KyoAni’s animation wizards do a terrific job.

When Yuuta Togashi was in middle school he had a bad case of chuunibyou (“Eighth Grade Sickness”) which involves having geeky obsessions and a weak grip on reality. He dressed in black, called himself the “Dark Flame Master” and carried either a cosplay broadsword or a toy assault rifle. Now that he is a first-year high school student (equivalent to 10th grade in the American system) these memories make him want to die from embarrassment.
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