In the anime world, 2014 was nothing short of amazing. There were so many great titles that hit the airwaves, whether they were new shows, or series finishing their run. In my opinion, it as the best year for anime so far this decade, and one of the best years for North American fans since the bubble burst.
I decided to take a look at both sides of the Pacific this year, to go over the new shows that aired this year, along with important bits of news that happened in North America.
Note: There may be spoilers for the shows listed, so reader discretion is advised.
Having to choose only three shows this year was difficult due to the sheer number of fantastic titles. After giving this decision much thought, though, I’ve selected the following as my top shows for 2014.
Honorable Mentions: Nagi no Asukara & Terror in Resonance
#3: Rage of Bahamut: Genesis
When one learns that a show is based on a collectible card game, the bar seems to immediately lower itself by a few pegs. Who would have guessed, then, that a series based on a mobile card game could actually be good?
Well, Rage of Bahamut: Gensis has a dirty secret, there. The series is enjoyable because it has nothing to do with the card game. The series, which was produced by studio MAPPA, has high production values, and a truly cinematic feel that seems more at home in a Hollywood movie than an anime series.
It’s not a deep show, but Rage of Bahamut: Genesis makes up for this with its combination of gorgeous visuals, superb characters, and a truly likeable cast.
#1 (Tie): Barakamon, No Game No Life
Both Barakamon and No Game No Life could easily take the top slot at the best show I had seen in the past year, period. Both were my picks for top show of their respective seasons (spring for No Game No Life, summer for Barakamon), and choosing one title over the other was a challenge in and of itself.
Barakamon is a slice of life show ab,out Seishū Handa a master calligrapher who is a bit of a hot-head. After punching a museum curator, he is sent away to live in a home in the Gotou Islands to further his craft.
Of course, this is easier said than done. While Handa would like to work on improving his abilities, the locals of the island are dead-set on wedging their way into his life. As they do, they teach the calligrapher valuable lessons about life.
No Game No Life, on the other hand, is a series that revolves around a particularly gifted team. Sora and Shiro are siblings, who are nothing short of geniuses when they team up in a game. Under the moniker of 『 』 (Blank), the two dominate in every game they touch. The two are thrust into their ultimate test, when a mysterious e-mail challenges the two to a virtual chess game.
Upon beating their opponent, Shiro and Sora are transported to the mysterious world of Disboard. In Disboard, violence is outlawed, and all matters are decided on the outcome of games. One thing leads to another, as Sora and Shiro are swept into an adventure, to save the kingdom of Imanity and the entire human race.
While they’re at it, why not conquer the world?
Neither of these shows are hugely original, but they more than make up for this with strong casts and superb storytelling.
Most Disappointing Show
While there were plenty of amazing shows this year, there were a number that missed the mark. These shows may have started strong, but they did not live up to the potential they originally displayed.
Honorable Mentions: Chuunibyou Demo Koi ga Shitai! Ren, Black Bullet
Wizard Barristers should be a textbook example of how poor execution can ruin a great concept. The idea of a magical world, where humans and wizards coexist was wonderful. The notion that a special court could exist for wizards who abuse their powers was a great idea on paper. Likewise, placing the focus on a 17 year old girl that entered the courts as the youngest Wizard Barrister could have worked.
So, where did the problems start to hit? Right out of the starting gate.
The two biggest issues that plagued the series were the nearly farcical court scenes, and the problem of too much plot that focused on the wrong elements. Due to the unmanageably massive cast, very few characters received any real development.
Of course, that’s also not to speak of the quality animation in episode eleven.
Had Wizard Barristers been left in better hands, and had there been more episodes, it could have been interesting. It could have provided a fascinating glimpse into this world, and how the magically inclined live amongst normal people. Instead, what we got was a show that tried to do far too much in too little time.
Surprise of the Year
Card game anime (Rage of Bahamut: Genesis, Selector Infected WiXOSS, Selector Spread WiXOSS)
Let’s face it. When we look at a show description for a show based on a trading card game, it’s easy to get the impression that it’s going to be a 22-minute toy commercial. Much to my surprise, though, we saw several card game shows that bucked the trend and proved themselves as titles worth watching.
While I already discussed Rage of Bahamut: Genesis, I also wanted to give some attention to Selector Infected WiXOSS and its sequel Selector Spread WiXOSS. The two shows tell the tale of a popular trading card game known as WiXOSS (short for “Wish Across”), in which players battle one another using fighters known as LRIGs.
A small number of lucky players are chosen to become “Selectors”, who do battle with one another. And, should they prove victorious on the battlefield, these Selectors will have their wishes granted. Those that lose three times, though, forfeit their chance at the prize.
Neither of the Selector shows were as strong as Rage of Bahamut: Genesis. Still, they did have a number of strong points. It’s a rare show that portrays a realistic incestuous relationship, and how society looks upon it. The series is at its best, though, when tackling the game’s darker elements.
While the art style is a bit dated, and there are a few loose ends at the conclusions, it’s still a great watch for those expecting something different from a card game show.
I’d like to take a moment to take a look at the more notable events that happened in the North American anime industry last year. I’ll also be giving predictions and expectations for the new year.
Premium Packaging Prominence
While premium releases have been hitting stores over the past few years, these have mostly been in the realm of Aniplex and NIS America. Over the course of 2014, we’ve been seeing the big three licensing companies (FUNimation, Sentai Filmworks, and Viz Media) jump into the fray with some of their more prominent titles.
FUNimation was first, with premium boxes for Kamisama Kiss and Psycho-Pass. This was followed by a a one-two punch of gorgeous special editions for their Attack on Titan, and a truly decadent release for Cowboy Bebop.
Viz released a number of their titles in special editions, including Blood Lad and Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet. The biggest draw for the company, though, was its classics. Both Ranma ½ and Sailor Moon saw fantastic premium releases that would make their way onto a number of collectors’ wish lists.
Sentai was the last to join the premium rush, and started slowly, with Highschool of the Dead and Love, Chunibyo, and Other Delusions. As of press time, Chunibyo still hasn’t seen release, and is scheduled for a February début date.
Thoughts for 2015: I expect that we’ll see the number of premium releases climb from the Big Three, in addition to the usual niche players like NIS America, PonyCan USA, and Aniplex of America.
FUNimation already scheduled a limited edition release for the first half of Space Dandy, and Viz is already gearing up to release more sets for Ranma and Sailor Moon. Sentai remains the wild card of the bunch, as their only limited edition scheduled is Chunibyo next month.
PonyCan USA, a subsidiary of Pony Canyon, is the latest Japanese company to enter the North American market. In 2014, the company launched their first two shows (Denki-Gai and Yuki Yuna a Yusha de Aru) on streaming services like Crunchyroll and Daisuki. At the moment, both shows are expected to hit Blu-Ray by April of this year.
Thoughts for 2015: While details on these upcoming releases are scarce, I expect Pony Can to follow a template similar to Aniplex of America’s. Recently, the company announced that they will sell their sets exclusively through Right Stuf, so we’ll see how things work out for the publisher.
Might I also add that have the best corporate name ever?
What is old is new again!
In 2014, we saw a number of fan favorites get a second lease on life. Shows like Ranma ½, Sailor Moon and Cardcaptor Sakura all saw a glorious return to the market in Blu-Ray debuts.
Thoughts for 2015:
There are still a number of former Bandai titles that have yet to be released. They’ve been licensed, though no actual release plans were unveiled just yet.
Titles that we have yet to hear about include Outlaw Star, Crest of the Stars, The Big O, and Escaflowne. I expect that we’ll see most of these announced and released in the next twelve months. Discotek and Nozomi, who seem to thrive on classics, will continue to feed the fanbase for older content.
It’s a Gundam!!
Sunrise dropped a bombshell at New York Comic Con, when they announced that they would partner with Right Stuf to release the Gundam franchise in North America. the first two releases under the agreement will be the original Mobile Suit Gundam and the long-awaited Turn-A-Gundam.
For Gundam fans, this was huge news, as Bandai’s departure from North America left many fearing that the series would be lost to the region forever.
Thoughts for 2015: At the moment, we still don’t know the specifics on the releases. Will this hit Blu-Ray? Will they be limited to DVD releases? There’s no telling at this point. Likewise, we aren’t sure of the release formats, or if we’ll see more than just these two shows hitting in 2015.
Netflix returns to anime
Netflix made waves in the anime world when they announced1 that they would stream Spring 2014’s Knights of Sidonia exclusively on their service. In addition, the company would dub the show in full for its airing. This was huge, being that Netflix was dipping its toe into the anime streaming arena with a new, hotly anticipated show.
1 This was announced in 2013.
Thoughts for 2015: With the second season of Knights of Sidonia confirmed for this year, I expect that we’ll see Netflix swoop in once again. What remains to be seen at this point is whether the company will license more shows and, if they do, whether those titles will get physical releases.
Space Dandy and Broadcast Dubs
Space Dandy quickly became an important series in North America. Not only was it directed by Cowboy Bebop‘s Shinichiro Watanabe, but it would actually air on Toonami before its Japanese début. It was interesting to see a series finished to completion, dub and all, before the opening credits actually aired in Japan.
Little did we know that this was just one step in a grand experiment that led to the creation of FUNimation’s Broadcast Dubs initiative. Through Broadcast Dubs, FUNimation will select specific titles to dub into English while they’re still airing in Japan. These episodes would then be made available via FUNimation’s streaming platform.
While the dubs themselves are a few episodes behind, it gives dub fans a chance to watch shows roughly as they hit, rather than being forced to wait for a disc release.
Thoughts for 2015: At the moment, no new Broadcast Dubs candidates have been revealed. That said, though, I expect FUNimation to kick things into gear this year with at least one show a season getting the treatment.
Due to FUNimation’s resources and pull in the industry, I don’t expect this to be a trend that the competitors will be able to follow, even if they want to.
Thank you for reading my year in review! It was a great year for anime fans on both sides of the Pacific, and I expect this year to be even better!