2014 Anime Year in Review: The Top 10

And so, at last, to the least suspenseful announcement in LiA history.

#1 – Hunter x Hunter 2011

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How in the world do I find anything new to say about Hunter X Hunter?  I’ve blogged 148 episodes, two movies and several miscellaneous H x H-related events.  It was a fixture in 2013’s “Best of” posts.  As a blogger this series has surely defined me and my body of writing more than any other (though I’d argue I was perhaps most impactful with coverage of the almost-universally ignored Ginga e Kickoff).  In short, I think anyone likely to be reading this knows what I think about this series at this point.

I don’t think there is much new I could say about this series or my feelings about it.  So maybe I should talk about how it relates to this list, and about the franchise itself.  On that latter point, I have read the first nine chapters of the current manga arc (“Dark Continent”) but haven’t been able to bring myself to read the last, knowing it may indeed be the last new Hunter X Hunter we get for some time.

No one can say what the future holds for the series – when Togashi-sensei’s health will improve enough for him to publish semi-regularly again (if it ever does), what his plans are for the story, and if there would be interest in animating the rest of it once Togashi does manage to get enough of it into print.  I do know this much – if Togashi’s health results in Gon & Killua’s storyline being left where it is forever (for the record, Gon has been minimally involved in “Dark Continent” and Killua not at all) I’ll be absolutely heartbroken.  I should also note, as some have asked me, that I’ve watched about half of the 1999 series now and intend to eventually finish it.  I find it quite good, but in truth I’m struck both by how much more faithful the 2011 is to the manga, and by how much better it is in terms of production values and casting (though I won’t deny I’m biased).  I could compare to the two adaptations at-length, but this really isn’t the proper venue for that.

This is a Top 10 list for 2014, so let me address why Hunter X Hunter was once again my top series.  There were only two candidates – no other 2014 series comes close to H x H or Mushishi Zoku ShouH x H becomes the first series to repeat three times in the list, never mind top it twice, and I should point out that when I rank it for 2014, I’m doing it based on the 2014 edition of the show – in other words, the “Chimera Ant” arc (the year actually began with Episode 111, about midway through it) and the short “Election” arc which closes the TV series.  Hunter X Hunter was last year’s top series, and #3 in 2012 (so eligible because in ran for both years in their entirety) and thus had already set an extremely high standard for itself.

Here’s the bottom line – in my view, Hunter X Hunter was better in 2013 than it was in 2012.  And though it’s a near thing given how much I adore last year’s material, I think it actually managed to improve again in 2014.  “Chimera Ant” is a controversial arc, but for me it’s the most intellectually ambitious, existentially disturbing and subtlest arc in shounen manga history.  And Madhouse adapted it brilliantly, with the usual impossibly-consistent animation and some of the finest voice work I’ve heard in anime.

Trying to compare Hunter X Hunter against Mushishi really points up the futility of exercises like these lists, because the two series could hardly be more different.  They each succeed brilliantly at achieving utterly different goals.  It would be hard to imagine any series doing better at being the kind of story Mushishi is than Mushishi itself – it’s functionally perfect as far as I’m concerned. Hunter X Hunter is an altogether distinct creation, and one reason why I give it the nod here is because what Togashi has achieved with “Chimera Ant” seems so impossible.  Whereas Mushishi transports us with mesmerizing and contemplative stand-alone tales week after week, everything Togashi does is connected.  You can draw an unbroken line from the beginning of the “Hunter Exam” arc to the coda of “Chimera Ant” and see how Togashi brought these characters where he did.  In terms of sheer achievement, I stand in awe of that and I just don’t think any anime – not even Mushishi – can stand as the equal of it.

I’m currently in the midst of a rewatch of this series (I’m about 23 episodes in) and while it’s plain that Togashi was always evolving his stylistic take on this premise, it’s remarkable how much is foreshadowed by these early episodes.  I again refer back to what Salieri supposedly said of Mozart, that he wrote “as if he were taking dictation from God” – and that’s what Hunter X Hunter feels like to me.  It’s as if Togashi had this magnificently dark and complex story composed in his head, and merely needed to commit it to the page.

The sheer complexity of the relationship between Gon and Killua alone is astounding, but in “Chimera Ant” it’s layered in with Buddhist allegory, political satire, deconstruction of shounen convention, and a dizzying array of supporting characters with deep and complex arcs of their own.  In manga or anime, I’ve never seen anything like it.  Are there more “mistakes” in “Chimera Ant” than in Mushishi Zoku Shou – is it less perfect?  Yes, undoubtedly – but the ambition soars so ridiculously high (and the most transcendent moments are so sublime) that I can’t possibly hold that against it.

With all that said about the written material, it’s worth remembering that it’s the anime version of “Chimera Ant” that I’m honoring here.  And here’s thing thing – for all its brilliance and endless wealth of ideas, this arc is a seeming nightmare to adapt.  The narrative (by choice) is all over the map.  Much of the exposition comes in the form of narration, and entire chapters can cover a mere 10-15 seconds of real time (sometimes more than one chapter with the same 10-15 seconds).  Main characters are off-screen for many episodes in a row, and sometimes entire ones focus on seemingly quite minor characters.  And while there are lights-out shounen moments to rival any in manga, they’re not the climactic moments of the arc – as is always the case with Hunter X Hunter.

Yet somehow, miraculously, Koujina Hiroshi and Madhouse make it not just work, but soar.  Those 10-second episodes are breathless thrill rides, and all of the “minor” characters jump off the screen.  “Chimera Ant” can give us Netero’s battle with Meruem, yes, and Gon’s unbelievably tense verbal confrontation with Neferpitou.  It can give us Killua’s tears, and the unlikeliest romance in anime this year.  But it can also give is a truly Shakespearean face-off with Ikalgo and Welfin, full of subtext and psychological subtlety.  It’s astonishing, all of it.

All of that, of course, doesn’t even begin to factor in “Election”, which marks another complete stylistic shift for Togashi and Hunter X Hunter.  And while by its nature “Election” is not as awe-inspiring as “Chimera Ant”, it’s likewise remarkable as it gives us by far our most intimate look at the inner workings of the Hunter Association.  And in the process it returns us to the themes of the long-ago “Zoldyck Family” arc and reveals the fault lines in Gon and Killua’s relationship, and finally confronts the ultimate shounen trope which began the series – Gon’s quest to find his father.  In doing so it manages to conclude with one of the best finales in recent anime history, even as it makes it clear that H x H is still very much an ongoing story.  Even to the extent where Megumi Han described the first 148 episodes as the “prologue”.

There you have it, really – there’s just so much here to discuss, even after 199 posts on the series.  This world and these characters are so intricate, so subtle, so real – there’s really nothing else quite like it in shounen or anywhere else in anime.  When I take into consideration everything achieved by a series over its 2014 run, I can’t rank anything ahead of Hunter X Hunter – not even the note-perfect and life-changing brilliance that is Mushishi Zoku ShouHunter X Hunter was the best series of 2013, and it managed to be even better in 2014.  The only thing it can be compared against is history, and it’s already carved out a lofty perch for itself.


#2 – Mushishi Zoku Shou

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I’ve made no secret of my belief that 2014 was a bad year for anime – on balance the worst since I’ve been a fan in terms of elite series.  I love all the shows on this list, but in truth as a group they don’t really look like a Top 10 to me – they’re wonderful shows, but not an especially strong body of work as compared to my prior lists.

Ironically, it’s at the very top where 2014 can hold its own with any anime year.  My #2 series of the year is Mushishi Zoku Shou, and it’s no exaggeration to say that there any many years when it would have been the #1.  To say the gap between the top 2 shows and the rest is wide is a massive understatement – that’s part of the problem with the year, but also a reflection of just how great these top two are.  There are times when I’ve been surprised and disheartened at the lack of commentary on the episode posts, but I sort of understand it – Mushishi speaks for itself so eloquently that it can seem almost disrespectful to try and add anything oneself.

As to just why the final order of those last two series is what it is, I’ll touch on it tomorrow – but it must be said, it would have been no stretch for me to make Mushishi my top series of 2014 (as it was in 2006).  As a practice I don’t write long Top 10 entries for series that have just concluded in the Fall season – I have a long post from last week explaining why I revere Mushishi as much as I do, and there’s no need to repeat myself here.

In that context, then, I’ll simply reiterate for the record – I love Mushishi, and I think it’s one of the finest and most important anime of the 21st Century.  Mushishi is that exceptional series that isn’t a classic example of a genre, or a deconstruction, or a subversion – it’s simply unique.  There is no other show like Mushishi, plain and simple – no other anime does what it does because no other anime tries to do what it does.  Thank goodness it exists, in this or any year – but especially this year.  This is one of the series that made me love anime in the first place, and it’s to the credit of Nagahama-sensei and Artland that it’s lost none of its magic whatsoever.  Having Mushishi return to grace our screens again was a dream come true, and saying goodbye once more truly is sorrow incarnate.


#3 Ping Pong the Animation

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When it ended, I don’t think there’s any way I would have guessed that Ping Pong would wind up as my #3 series of 2014.  Part of that is a reflection of how weak the remainder of the year was, yes – but there’s more to it than that (I don’t think I expected it to finish this high even when I started considering this list).  It would be fair to say that Ping Pong is a series that grows in stature the more one considers it – and the more one is exposed to what makes up the overwhelming majority of the anime landscape.  This show stands the test of time, and I suspect it’s reputation will only grow in the years ahead.

This is the third sports anime on the list (and to give credit where it’s due, the second NoitaminA series), but to call it a sports series is just as limiting as it is with Baby Steps, albeit for somewhat different reasons.  The sport in question here is table tennis, and there’s both a love for and encylopedic knowledge of it displayed in mangaka Matsumoto Taiyou’s writing.  But sports is the canvas here, not the painting itself.  This is a character study, and a brilliant one – not just of the leads Smile and Peco, but of a memorable supporting cast as well (my favorites being “China” and Butterfly Joe).  I think the same essential story could have been told if the boys were, say, violinists or, yes, painters – it’s the deeper psychological underpinnings that drive the story.  And you’ll rarely see an anime that psychologically dissects its cast as much as Ping Pong does.

The anime version of this series is a melding of Matsumoto’s unique narrative and visual style with director/writer Yuasa Masaki’s perhaps even more singular narrative and visual style.  That was a risk – two positive poles could have repelled, or something – but in hindsight it was a marriage made in Heaven.  Ping Pong is clearly a show produced on a modest budget, but there’s so much sheer creative brilliance on display that it turns into a positive.  In a sense, Yuasa is doing what Shinbou Akiyuki pretends to do, except he’s really doing it for artistic reasons and not just to deliver the expected on the cheap.  Yuasa’s particular magic, I think, is to find the point where beauty and ugliness meet and set up shop right there – and that’s a perfect fit for Matsumoto’s series.

Ping Pong is also a strong test-case for choosing completed manga to adapt into anime, and doing so with an appropriate number of episodes.  Yuasa had the perfect stage, and he performed – he told the entire story, and finished the series on a high note.  It’s sheer agony to imagine what Watanabe Shinichirou could have done with another NoitaminA show, Sakamichi no Apollon, if he’d had the same privilege – but his story was much more cumbersome than Ping Pong, and he was given only 12 episodes when telling it in 22 would have been a stretch.  I get that series like these aren’t going to get multi-cour commitments very often these days – getting one is a minor miracle – but choosing a story than can be told in the time provided is a crucial part of the production process that’s frequently a casualty of expedience.

I take a lot of things away from Ping Pong, but what really stands out for me are two scenes from the final episode: the montage of the major cast from toddlerhood to adolescence expressed through ping pong, and set to the voices of a children’s choir singing “We Are Alive”.  And the three old-timers sitting in the hallway reminiscing about the good (and bad) old days while the kids played the climactic match of the series inside the arena.  What a magnificent way to draw everything together, because Ping Pong is a story about all the stages in our lives, and about the passions that drive us.  It’s a beautiful series – not in the superficial sense, but in every sense that matters.

#4 – Gin no Saji

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This show took the most circuitous route possible to the Top 10 list – a split-cour, with the second airing in Winter of 2014.  But those are the rules I set up, so I followed them – and this isn’t the Academy Awards, where 90% of what’s released before November is too ancient for the memories of the voters.  No, Gin no Saji was always going to stake out a place in my Top 10 – it was just a question of how high a place.

This is a strange sort of series in many ways.  Silver Spoon is technically a shounen, and it’s the product of the author of one of the best-selling shounen manga ever (the far more conventionally shounen Fullmetal Alchemist).  But thematically it’s always felt as seinen as a series could be to me, even allowing the high-school setting and 16 year-old hero.  Its unusual chemical composition explains its commercial pedigree – a monstrously successful manga (among the top 10 in history in fastest accumulation of a million volumes sold) but an anime that didn’t sell many discs.  I don’t think it’s a huge problem, because the manga is so popular and because I doubt the production committee or NoitaminA were expecting big-time disc sales.  But it does make it less likely that we’ll see another season once the manga finishes (or theoretically earlier).

I love this series, not in-spite of how no-frills and lacking in flash it is, but because of it.  Arakawa-sensei has given us a true coming-of-age story in the traditional style, one full of harsh lessons and hilarious missteps.  She’s also written a love letter to the life of her childhood in rural Hokkaido, but one that pulls no punches when it comes to the hardships of that life.  She asks difficult questions (the entire “Pork Bowl” storyline is about asking one such question) and never cops out with easy answers.  It would be hard to imagine a high-school series more grounded in reality, more relatable and believable and less reliant on trope and cliche.

I think it’s perfectly fine to view Gin no Saji as one extended season (that’s the premise behind ranking split-cour shows only after they finish in any case) especially because the two seasons are so seamlessly integrated (despite a change in director).  I couldn’t pick one over the other as a favorite anyway – they’re dead-even in my book.  The Komaba storyline was every bit the equal of the Pork Bowl one, both in terms of inherent drama and enlightening the particular challenges the characters in this series face (which are also quite universal, in their way).

I could write for hours about the spider-web of issues in this series, and the subtlety with which they’re developed – Hachiken’s parents, his relationship with Mikage, the brutal reality of the agricultural economy…  They all work, because this is an author clearly writing what she knows.  Ultimately, though, this is Hachiken’s story and it really soars because of what a great protagonist he is (and Kimura Ryouhei’s stellar performance).  Seeing his development at Ezonoo – free at last from the crushing weight of his father’s expectations and disapproval – is one of the great joys in recent anime.  That kind of satisfaction a coming-of-age series is uniquely positioned to deliver, but we don’t get many of them in anime these days – and almost never ones as honest and literate as Silver Spoon.  Thank goodness there’s still a place in anime – for now at least – for shows like this one.

#5 – Baby Steps

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As I said about last year’s #4 show, Ginga e Kickoff: I love, love, love Baby Steps.

I certainly admit that this is a personal choice for me – but as I’ve said before, these are lists of my favorite shows, plain and simple.  They aren’t a measure of what show is objectively better than another, because that’s a subjective measure.  Baby Steps the anime also (like Space Dandy) asks questions about what the priorities should be in ranking series.  The fact is, the biggest reason Baby Steps is such a fantastic anime is because the manga is fantastic.  But that said, it’s no mean feat to take a source material this good and not screw it up.

The funny thing about Baby Steps is, when the series was announced it seemed like there was a pretty good chance Pierrot would screw it up.  We heard that it was only going to be 25 episodes (the manga is already well over 300 chapters) and that the mangaka would be contributing “original material” (cue foreboding music).  Yet what we got was two cours of religiously faithful anime – almost nothing was changed or left out, and what few scenes were added (like Nachan as the “Meat Bun Girl” at the culture fest) actually improved things.  Who would have believed it?

Make no mistake, if I were grading strictly on story and characters, Baby Steps would be ranked even higher on this list.  The production values here are generally pedestrian (though a few of the big matches are quite stunning), as has often (though by no means always) been the case with Pierrot adaptations of late.  As a production, a show like Haikyuu!! (which I liked very much) certainly outshines Baby Steps.  But for me, story and characters are the most important aspect of an anime, not the production values – and this series is almost peerless in that department.

To call Baby Steps a “sports anime” is to call Stephen Fry or Craig Ferguson a comedian – it’s factually true, but it encompasses only a small fraction of the truth.  The reality is that this is the story of a life – that of its protagonist Maruo Echirou – and tennis is a part of that life.  But so are parents, and friends, and rivals, and tests, and the girl he falls in love with.  And the tennis itself is not simply tennis – it’s stretching, and endurance training, and meditation, and enforced goofing off.. And note-taking.  Lots of note-taking.

There are no short-cuts in Baby Steps – no cheats.  It’s systematic in its deconstruction of Ei-chan (which fits perfectly because he systematically deconstructs everything in life including himself – and that synergy is no accident) yet remains warm, funny and exciting.  Ei-chan is a wonderful main character, incredibly easy to root for, and the ever-expanding supporting cast seems plucked from real life.  And I think Ei-chan’s sweetly innocent fumblings at romance with heroine Natchan fare ever better in the anime than they do in the manga – seeing them brought to life on-screen gives even more charm.

Baby Steps is not part of the generation of crossover sports hits that sell massive quantities of discs and body pillows – it’s just a humble, respectably popular manga that’s beautifully written and enlightens the world of youth sports with its intelligence, dignity and emotional honesty.  I listen to “Believe in Yourself” to psych myself up for big moments in my life.  I actually shed a few tears when the shocking announcement of a second season broke (I still almost can’t believe it).  I love the fact that the manga and even the anime have found an audience, even if it’s not a huge one.  I love Baby Steps for what it stands for, and for what it is – quite probably the best sports manga I’ve ever read, and now one of the best anime of 2014 and beyond.

#6 – Space Dandy

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We’re halfway through the list, and 60% of it has been comedy – that’s pretty rare.  And yes, I would call Space Dandy a comedy first, though it certainly spans as wide a range of genres as any series in recent memory.

Space Dandy is a fascinating series in so many ways.  You have to push past the “save anime” nonsense and the unusual nature of the show’s distribution and take stock of it on its own terms, and that’s not an easy thing to do.  Yes, this is a series that set out (and at least partially succeeded) in trying to forge a new path to commercial viability for anime – and that’s important.  But I don’t think it would be nearly as important if the show weren’t of lasting value on its own merits.  And for me, it definitely is.

A question Space Dandy demands we ask is this: how much should one value ambition in measuring the relative merits of anime?  Like it or not compiling these kinds of lists requires that we make qualitative judgments of how series stack up against each other.  For me, I’ve always felt that a show with a modest premise executed flawlessly shouldn’t be marked down for not being inherently ground-breaking, but it’s not so easy to say a show shouldn’t be given a little more leeway if it is.  BONES and Watanabe-sensei took a very interesting approach with Space Dandy, effectively making something like 20 different series over 26 episodes by recruiting teams of talented directors, writers and animators and giving them almost total creative license (not to mention linear narrative for most of the series).  It was exhilarating, fascinating – but it also resulted in a pretty broad range of quality between the best episodes of the series and the worst.

In my view, I think Space Dandy should be judged by the impact it had as a whole – and the soaring ambition and staggering creative courage that went into it is what stands out.  The best episodes – I’d cite the “A World With No Sadness, Baby” and “I’m Never Remembering You, Baby” eps as two examples – were among the best anime episodes in years (“No Sadness” is easily in my all-time Top 10).  But the spine of the series, which eventually revealed itself in the second cour (as expected, along the lines of the ED lyrics) was brilliant in itself.  And as you’d expect from a BONES series directed by Watanabe, the visuals and music were absolutely world-class.

Maybe I’m too forgiving of Space Dandy – there were certainly clunkers among its 26 episodes.  But that it was willing to take so many chances, that it succeeded so often, and that the finest moments were so utterly sublime justifies the risks and largely negates the missteps.  As anime becomes more and more risk-averse and uniform, to see a series embrace imagination unreservedly and aim so high, so often is a wonderful thing.  The show stands as a love letter to classic anime, to American pop culture and to creative freedom itself, and as a rejection of both artistic and commercial convention. And like it or not, that makes Space Dandy an uncommonly important series.

#7 – Hoozuki no Reitetsu

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Four shows, three called sleepers – and it’s not like everyone was with me on expecting Kuroshitsuji to be one of the best shows of the year, either.  Maybe in a bad year it’s easier to pick out the shows with potential, I don’t know, but Hoozuki no Reitetsu is definitely another gem whose potential stood out for me without having read any of the source material (an oversight I’ve since corrected).

Another trend we see in the list so far, of course, is comedy.  Along with sports, it was the saving grace of 2014.  And Hoozuki no Reitetsu is a “pure” comedy in the sense that the humor is definitely the top priority here – but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a fantastic cast of characters.  Hoozuki has the trait many great comedies share, in that it can generate humor using a wide variety of different styles.  And like many great comedies (most obviously Monty Python) it successfully aims for both extremely highbrow and absurdly lowball humor, the contrast being of the series’ most winning features.

It wasn’t love at first sight for me with Hoozuki no Reitetsu – I only liked the premiere, and some of the references whizzed over my head.  But the movement was unidirectional – the show just kept getting better and better, and with it my esteem rose and rose.  So much stands out about this show, but one has to mention how ridiculously literate it was – the cultural references (Eastern and Western both) cut a dizzyingly wide swathe.  The visuals (like the manga’s) were gorgeous, a kind of absurdist take on classical Buddhist art.  The music and cast were top-notch.  And there are so many hilarious highlights: Peach Maki’s idol career, Nasubi’s art, the trip to “Mortal Hell”, Super Mario driving a funicular…  The list on and on, with many gems being mined from the East-West culture clash (like Satan’s visit to Buddhist Hell).

One can’t talk about Hoozuki no Reitetsu without taking note of what a huge commercial success it was.  In fact it was the only show from a historically disastrous (deservedly) Winter 2014 season to average 5-figure disc sales, and it doubled the nearest competition in doing so.  I’m still, to this day, not quite sure why this esoteric and idiosyncratic comedy full of obscure jokes was such a huge mainstream hit (especially with women – though much of that seems to stem from the Hoozuki-Hakutaku pairing), but the fact that it was is certainly a reason not to abandon all hope for anime as a medium.

#8 – Kuroshitsuji: Book of Circus

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At only 10 episodes, Kuroshituji: Book of Circus is the shortest series to ever land in one of my year-end Top 10 lists.  But its place here is a no-brainer for me – it’s a terrific adaptation, and in hindsight it was probably just about the right length as well.  If any more padding had been necessary, Yoshino Hiroyuki would have been forced to get creative – and I don’t think any of us would have wanted to see that.

If you’re going to compare “Book of Circus” to a series from last year’s list, it would probably be Rozen Maiden Zuruckspulen.  Each is the finest representative of a popular manga franchise in anime form, thriving in the hands of a quality director.  But neither one should be taken as a surprise – Zuruckspulen incorporated more original material but it was written by the great Mochizuki Tomomi.  And Circus is probably the most brilliant section of the Black Butler manga, incorporating everything about the series that makes it great (atmosphere, tragedy, pathos) and little of what tends to undermine it (excessive campiness and Grell – if there’s any difference).

The most important reason “Book of Circus” was so great, though, was that it completely ignored the disastrous Okada Mari-written second season and returned to the spirit and substance of the manga.  I think that debacle had caused a lot of people to forget just how good the first season of Kuroshitsuji the anime (also written by Okada, but faithfully to the source) really was – and that’s really good.  Circus was even better, spinning a fascinating tale of a circus preying on the most innocent in Victorian society, and one which has a sinister connection (just how sinister depends on how much of a conspiracy theorist you are) to Ciel’s past.

I love “Book of Circus” because it acts as a perfect vehicle to illuminate the essence of Ciel’s story (which is Kuroshitsuji’s story) – that of victims and victimizers, and those who try and cross from the first camp into the second, with invariably tragic results.  And while “Circus” is nominally the tragedy of the performers of Noah’s Ark Circus, in truth this is Ciel’s tragedy – this entire series is – and the ending drives this point home.  There might perhaps be things “Book of Circus” can’t achieve as a 10-episode series, and Kuroshitsuji as a whole might have a bit too much puffery and pandering for its own good.  But this series still manages to showcase what a savage and brilliant story this can be when it’s on top of its game.

#9 – Yowamushi Pedal

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Just to clarify, this rating is based on the first series only, not Grande Road (though for the record, I find the latter pretty comparable thus far).

2014 was a very good for sports anime (that’s a hint), arguably the strongest element of an otherwise weak year.  It was also a very good year for Watanbabe Wataru, who saw not just his most famous work but the lesser-heralded Majimoji Rurumo find their way to TV and computer screens.  I love sports anime and I love Watanabe-sensei’s writing, so that’s all good for me.  I think we’ve seen a real change in the commercial aspect of sports manga – the ones that find the biggest commercial success in anime form now (though Prince of Tennis arguably started this) do so primarily on the strength of their popularity with female audiences.  There’s still room for old-school stalwarts like Diamond no Ace (which does indeed have a large female audience of its own) and “pure” sports and character stories like Baby Steps, but the commercial titans’ popularity is mostly driven – let’s be honest – by shipping.

Enter Yowamushi Pedal, which for me straddles this divide better than almost any sports adaptation has (as witness the 50-50 split between Blu-ray and DVD sales).  Yes, this was a sleeper I pegged pre-airing, because I knew how good the manga was and knew it already had a sizable fanbase.  But its success has been a major story nonetheless, falling somewhere short of shows like Haikyuu!! and Kurobas in terms of disc sales, but faring extremely well both in terms of BD/DVD and ramped-up manga sales.  Yowamushi Pedal has fans both in the old-school and new-school sports anime audiences, which is pretty rare and to the extent that Yowapeda has managed it, probably unique.

There’s a reason for that, and it’s Watanabe’s writing.  As fans of either this show or Majimoji will know, Watanabe has an unpretentious, open-hearted silliness to him that’s very hard to resist.  He writes cute characters of both sexes, has a knack for likeable protagonists, and in the case of Yowapeda, rarely have we seen an author’s passionate love for a sport shine through more clearly.  Bikes are a big part of almost everyone’s life in Japan, but the sport of cycling is not high on popularity lists either in manga or in general, which makes this series that much more welcome.  The combination of hero Onoda’s irresistible spirit and longing to connect with others, and the encyclopedic detail and love for cycling makes for a unique and hugely entertaining story.  Yowapeda has peaks and valleys (fittingly), as almost all three-cour shows do.  But on the whole it’s phenomenally likeable and entertaining, and certainly stands out in a very busy year for sports anime.

#10 – Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun

Nozaki-kun - 04 -16[2] Nozaki-kun - 06 -22[2] Nozaki - 10 -15[2]

I had a pretty good year in terms of identifying sleepers (this wasn’t the only one that wound up in my Top 20), and there was something about Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun that stood out right from the very beginning, though I hadn’t yet read any of the manga.  It’s published in Gangan Online, a veritable treasure trove of smart and original series that transcend gender and demographic boundaries.  And as a shounen with a female lead who’s on love with a shoujo mangaka, this series figured to show little respect for such conventions.

Honesty compels me to say that as much as I love this show, this is the first time since I began compiling these lists that Gesshounoku would have been a Top 10 series – in a decent year it would be somewhere in the teens.  Nevertheless, even allowing for the fact that 2014 was respectable in the area of comedy, this series stands out.  It’s consistently funny, and occasionally hilarious.  Most delightful for me is the way it gleefully obliterates gender stereotypes – best exemplified in the sublime “There Are Times When Men Must Fight” episode, where Nozaki and Mikoshiba play galge, and Nozaki-kun tries to do so using shoujo manga logic.

This is a series with many strengths, starting with the cast – it’s just the right size for everyone to get their share of the limelight, and they fit together beautifully because each is likeable and funny in their own way (Mikoshiba being my favorite).  It’s a smart, insightful and beautifully produced comedy that works on multiple levels – perhaps most powerfully as a deconstruction of genre and demographic tropes, but also quite effectively as a character-driven situation comedy.  Gesshounoku deserves every bit of the commercial success it’s achieved, both in terms of promoting the manga and strong disc sales – and that success makes a second season a near certainty at some point.  That’s a very pleasing proposition indeed.

2014 was in many ways both a tough and an easy year to compile the year-end Top 20 list – for the same reason, and it’s not a good one.  But here we are, and as always I’d like to start off with a show which doesn’t fit neatly with the others on the list, but which holds a special place in my heart.  This year that show is…

Honorable Mention – Tonari no Seki-kun

Tonari no Seki-kun - 03 -16 Tonari no Seki-kun - 19 -13 Tonari no Seki-kun - OVA -23

I was a pretty big fan of the Tonari no Seki-kun manga, but I wasn’t at all sure how it would translate to anime.  A main character who doesn’t speak, very brief stories that are almost entirely sight gags and the other main character’s internal monlogues, many very esoteric Japanese cultural references?  It seemed a tough fit for an adaptation, to be honest.

Thankfully, Shin-Ei and very experienced director Mutou Yuuji made almost entirely wise choices, and the result was one of the most entertaining short-form anime ever.  I would have liked double-episodes every week (that would have taken us to about 12 minutes, as the OVAs were) but not trying to go full-length was the first smart move.  Casting Shimono Hiro to give voice to Seki-kun’s non-linguistic verbalisations was another.  Having Kana Hanazawa (who’s also very good here) as Yokoi speak directly to Seki so often was a choice that didn’t initially click with me, but it worked well enough in the end.

The first job of any comedy is to be funny, and Tonari no Seki-kun fulfilled that obligation admirably (while this was a down year in anime, comedy may be about the closest it had to a strength).  But the most important thing is that it mined the humor from the same source as the manga because it understood what makes the manga work – its laser-accurate capture of the differences between boys and girls.  Seeing Seki’s ridiculous schemes and Yokoi’s tortured reactions come to life on-screen was a real treat, and this show was about as accomplished as it’s possible for a six-minute anime to be.

A Refresher on Eligibility:

I’m going by the same eligibility standard I used for the 2012-2013 lists – that is, shows that finished airing in 2014 or split-cours that finished in 2014, plus shows that aired for the entire year (such as Diamond no Ace).  There always seems to be one show that falls in a grey area (last year it was was Little Busters!) and this time it was Yowamushi Pedal and Tokyo Ghoul.  Do I consider these a split cour (and thus ineligible), or do I consider the first series and Grande Road or Root A as different series?  I chose the former – admittedly in part because it was such a weak year, but also because Grande Road was announced late in the original series’ run and Root A after, and each had a different subtitle.  So in effect, then, the only shows not eligible for this list are the multi-cour series that began airing from Spring 2014 onwards and are still airing into Winter 2015, or true split cours (like Fate/stay/night: UBW and Aldnoah.Zero) that will finish in 2015.

And as with last year, let’s do a little contest – anyone that guesses the Top 10, in order, gets a made-to-order haiku.  If no one does that, I’ll go with the closest guess.  Guesses made by 2359 JST 12/22/14 will be eligible.

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91 comments

  1. G

    Alright here's my guess for your top 10

    #1 Hunter X Hunter
    #2 Mushishi
    #3 Ping pong
    #4 Baby Step
    #5 Kuroshitsuji : Book of Circus
    #6 Gin no Saji 2
    #7 Yowamushi Pedal
    #8 Gugure Kokkuri-san
    #9 Space Dandy 2
    #10 Hoozuki no Reitetsu

  2. e

    Just read your post right after posting mine and wow, are guesses are damn similar, literally only differing by one show. Kinda excited to see which of our exclusives makes it in now:p

  3. G

    Well, the number of great anime this year is pretty limited so I'm sure a lot of the guesses will be similar here I'm sure. I took a gamble with Kokkuri-san as the show hasn't ended yet and I don't have an end post review to base my choice but I put it in over Isshuukan friends just because there was Saki in friends. It still would have been #11 on my guess list followed by Soredemo Sekai.

  4. e

    Cool, it's that time of the year again. Always love trying to guess your top 10 every year, though I didn't put that much thought into it this time around admittedly.

    1.Hunter x Hunter (essentially the free point for anyone participating>_>)
    2.Mushishi (another really obvious one; I actually wouldn't be surprised if this and hxh swapped places though I think the sheer quantity of great hxh episodes will cause the scales to tip in its favour)
    3.Ping Pong (probably the best new anime of the year direction and execution wise)
    4.Baby Steps (I get the feeling you like this slightly more than Ping Pong subjectively but objectively, the latter wins out? Though I may be wrong on this)
    5.Kuroshitsuji: Book of Circus
    6.Gin no Saji (hopefully the fact that it aired early in the year doesn't diminish your love for it in the slightest)
    7.Yowamushi Pedal
    8.Ishuukan Friends
    9.Space Dandy
    10.Hoozuki no Reitetsu (draws with Space Dandy S1, but loses to S2)

    Usually I come pretty close every year, though I'm relatively unsure about my choices this time around>_> Again, not much research done on my part this year.

  5. w

    I think you've set the deadline a little early there… About a year early, in fact 😛

    Also for Yowapedal/Ghoul you're saying you chose the former, which would make them ineligible? Gonna assume you meant the latter, that they are eligible, since that seems to be what the next part implies.

    Anywaaaay, here's my guesses!

    #1: HunterxHunter
    #2: Mushishi
    #3: Baby Steps
    #4: Silver Spoon
    #5: Ping Pong
    #6: Space Dandy
    #7: Yowamushi Pedal
    #8: Kuroshitsuji: Book of Circus
    #9: Isshuukan Friends
    #10: Gonna go with… Space Brothers? This is a very difficult final slot.

    And just in case I am wrong about Yowapedal being eligible, slot it out for Kokkuri-san.

  6. D

    I have this image of you staring at your Top 10 list in a Word doc and swapping HxH and Mushishi as the #1 spot, back and forth, for hours. Has there ever been a tie? Because if you allow yourself a tie, then I'd peg them both as #1.

    Wellp, my list is going to have similar shows to the others, because it was a pretty top-heavy year. I'm also gonna be the rebel in the group and mix up the order a bit, because why the heck not?

    1. Mushishi
    2. Hunter x Hunter
    3. Black Butler: Book of Circus
    4. Baby Steps
    5. Gin no Saji -Silver Spoon-
    6. Space Dandy
    7. Ping Pong
    8. Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun
    9. Yowamushi Pedal
    10. Hoozuki no Reitetsu (dark horse candidate!)

    I'm assuming "Baby Steps" makes the list since you didn't name it as an exception and it isn't a *true* split-cour, but if not then I'd have to shuffle stuff around and probably sneak "Ace of Diamond" on at the bottom.

    In other news, I've been gearing up my own 2014 Top 10 list, and I gotta say, it looks eerily like the one I just wrote above. Great minds, eh? Or maybe it really WAS just a super top-heavy kind of year.

  7. No, I've never weaseled and put a tie in these year-end lists. And yes, Baby Steps is eligible this year by my standards.

  8. D

    I avoided reading this until today because I’ve been putting together my own Top 10 list for TMS and didn’t want to unconsciously swipe anything, so know that it’s a total coincidence that we both compare Hozuki no Reitetsu to Monty Python (I seriously LOL'd when I read that).

    In other news, looks like I guessed all the titles correctly but gloriously botched the order. But I set Yowapeda in the right spot, so, huzzah?

    Overall really enjoyed the write-ups, particularly your explanation for why you set HxH over Mushishi. I don't completely agree but I definitely understand where you're coming from, and it's always fun to see the sort of unofficial rubrics different people use in ranking shows. Happy New Year and thanks as always for your thoughtful posts and commentaries! Here's to an exciting, productive 2015, whether you're writing from Japan or elsewhere!

  9. M

    Hunter x Hunter and Mushi-Shi make it an easy 1-2, but anywhere after that could be anything, HM's to Tokyo Ghoul and Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii for just missing the cut.

    1. Hunter x Hunter
    2. Mishi-Shi
    3. Black Butler
    4. Ping Pong
    5. Space Dandy
    6. Silver Spoon
    7. Baby Steps
    8. Hoozuki no Reitetsu
    9. Yowamushi Pedal
    10. Majimoji Rurumo

  10. R

    Thank-you Enzo for giving Tonari no Seki-kun a honourable mention. I, too, enjoyed this show quite a lot. As much as I love shows that are inspiring and ambitious, I find myself always having a spot for shows that are pure, genuine and funny…Tonari no Seki-kun completely fits into the latter. Its plot is simple and repetitive, but it didn't lose its charm week after week.

    As for the top-10 guess….hmmmm….here's what I'm thinking. I've been your reader for quite some years now. Not that I can say I know you, but I get a sense of what speaks to your heart. I dropped shows that I think will be on your top 10, so I'm just going to save it till your daily unveiling.

    By the way, having not being eligible for the last two years, Uchuu Kyoudai should finally be in for this year's top 10…we'll see how it competes and wins a spot in your heart.

  11. B

    1. Hunter X Hunter 2011
    2. Mushishi Zoku shou
    3. Gin no Saji
    4. Baby Steps
    5. Yowamushi Pedal
    6. Hoozuki no Reitetsu
    7. Space Dandy
    8. ping pong the animation
    9. Kuroshitsuji: Book of Circus
    10. Isshuukan Friends

  12. B

    Hmm… here's my take on your list.
    1. Hunter x Hunter
    2. Mushishi
    3. Baby Steps
    4. Ping Pong
    5. Space Dandy
    6. Uchuu Kyoudai
    7. Gin no Saji
    8. Kuroshitsuji: Book of Circus
    9. Hoozuki no Reitetsu
    10. Either Majimoji Rurumo or Isshuukan Friends; this one's kind of a toss-up.

  13. B

    You know what? I think I'll go with Rurumo.

  14. R

    I don't have a top-10 this year — just 9 favourites — and Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun took the 9th spot of my list. In a way, I guess, my list aligns with yours.

    I didn't like Chiyo from the get-go It's mostly her character design that rubbed me the wrong way, but I was wrong, and that was very presumptuous of me. Chiyo is still not my favourite character, but this show isn't about her, and I enjoyed all the laughs and the way it challenges our presumptions.

  15. m

    it's funny how everyone's top 5 list looks virtually the same. And i'm going with the majority.

    1. Hunter x Hunter
    2. Mushishi
    3. Silver Spoon
    4. Kuroshitsuji
    5. Baby Steps (probably marked down by production standards)
    6. Yowamushi Pedal (i think it fares better in the first season?)
    7. Ping Pong
    8. Hoozuki no Reitetsu
    9. Space Dandy
    10. (which u revealed) Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun

    10-20s (in no particular order): majimoji rurumo, haikyuu!!, space brothers, tokyo ghoul, gugure kokkuri-san, noragami, inari konkon koi iroha, soredemo sekai was utsukushii, gokukoku no brynhildr, ishuukan friends

    it's sad how next year, the definite no.1 contender spot will be let up…

  16. R

    I guess most of your readers, including me, knew it that Kuroshitsuji: Book of Circus would be on your top 10. I didn't pick this show for not because it wasn't great, but I had to make a choice at the time and therefore didn't pick up this show…so I missed the opportunity to experience it when it was aired. My #8 is Hunter x Hunter. It's your #1 last year, and we know the love that you have for this show, so probably it will be up high on your list again this year. Not sure if it will be your #1 again…hmmm….I'm gonna bet not…?

  17. Not seeing it when it was aired doesn't mean you can't still experience it and enjoy it. In a lean year, missing out on this series would be a real shame.

  18. R

    I'm fine adding this one to my bucket list…life is getting busier, like many here…but perhaps this will be a good one for the break between Fall and Winter…

  19. R

    Oh, by the way, it's Christmas Eve there already, right. Are you gonna get your KFC? Teehee…

    Merry Christmas to you and to the readers of LiA.

  20. No (I would have to have reserved days in advance, which I didn't, even if I wanted to eat KFC – which I don't)…

  21. R

    Wow…that must be quite a tradition and demand to order days in advance. Enjoy your Christmas there…imagine that it's a white Christmas, as it is here :-).

  22. e

    Sista you beat me on the KFC joke.
    A very white (and green?) Merry Xmas to The Enzo and the rest of LIA minions ;D.

  23. R

    And to you, elianthos80 :-).

  24. R

    For the most part, I find myself having similar tastes as yours…this year we like the same things differently and to a different degree. I enjoyed Hoozuki no Reitetsu, but for the 7th spot of my list of favourites, I'm giving it to the second season of Gin no Saji. I like the first season better, but it's still enjoyable to watch Hachiken's journey to finding meanings to his life and to a place that he initially chose as an escape. The Komaba arc was a tug at heartstrings — it's cruel but real — and to watch a boy losing his dream to reality was tough. Overall, Gin no Saji — and thanks to Arakawa-sensei — is a way better show of high-school kids, and it opened the eyes of many, including mine, who grew up in the cities.

  25. G

    One big surprise for me this season was Yuki Yuna. I did not have this series on my radar and it ended up being a great series (last episode ended today). If you have not seen it give it a chance.

  26. G

    Hozuki no Reitetsu is an odd one. I mean, I definitey agree with you because we are on the same page, but it definitelty isn't for everyone. Some familarity with Japanese culture as well as a pencant for deadpan dry humor definitey helps. I can't blame those for whom its quirky charms were lost.

  27. R

    So far, I'm completely off the mark…but hope that I will get closer when it comes down to the top 5, or even the top 3.

    I have Uchuu Kyoudai down for my top 6. I have a mixed-feeling towards this show. I loved the first two-thirds of it way more but too bad…Uchuu Kyoudai were not allowed to compete in year 2012 and 2013. Anyway, regardless of the fact that 2014 is comparatively a week year which allows Uchuu Kyoudai to jump out more, this show is still a very unique one. It's rare in today's anime landscape to have a show centering around an adult — not a handsome-looking one to boost — and enjoying popularity and a long run of 99 episodes. How rare is that? I still like watching Muta — he's totally the spotlight, and, to a degree, I got inspiration from his story for my own day-to-day. That's why I put Uchuu Kydai down as one of my favourites.

  28. Actually Uchuu Kyoudai was eligible in 2013 because it ran for the entire year, and I ranked it #18 for its 2013 offerings only.

  29. R

    That's right…it ran for the whole year. The show wasn't as good in its later run last year, and it stayed subpar towards the end — in my view — when I reflected on how great it was in 2012. Regardless, I still like Muta and his journey to bringing his childhood dream to life.

  30. b

    We're not there yet, but I thought you might enjoy looking at this if you haven't seen it before.

    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Manga/HunterXHunter

  31. b

    Thanks for the suggestion, I started watching because of this article and it's trippy how similar the main character and I are. I'm already 6 eps in and it's like watching the journey I've been on all these years.

  32. m

    It's funny how I didn't think i love baby steps that much when it was airing (i think the schedule was still saturated with sports anime so i didn't realise) but now that there aren't as many sports to watch i start to miss it a lot, as much as hxh. It's the only anime who gave me the satisfaction of a very good training arc, and very good FOCUSED matches (Yowa Peda really needs to get into gear more and stop dragging out the race) I still think the other characters need more fleshing out even nat-chan so i hope second season gives that!

  33. e

    Hmm I was expecting BS to end one position higher and closer to the top. Talking of which… guesses:
    1. Mushishi Zoku
    2. HxH (but HxH might be #1 and Mushishi #2. Tough one)
    3. Gin No Saji s2
    4. Ping Pong or Haikyuu (again, #3 and #4 could be swapped).

  34. R

    Good choices. I also have Mushi-shi down for my most favourite.

  35. Z

    Many disappointments for me this year, so list is rather short.

    1. Ping Pong
    2. Noragami
    3. Houzuki no Reitetsu
    4. Shingeki no Bahamut (pending)

  36. R

    Hey, I also have 3 of your top 4 taking top spots.

  37. H

    What's your top 10 disappointments?

  38. R

    Interesting question, but I don't really have a list. I'm a lot more skeptical this year, and I'm quite forgetful…according to my sister…lol. If I have to try, I'd say Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso…that's all I can remember. By the way, why do we need a list of disappointments? Just curious…

  39. Z

    Shingeki no Bahamut now officially qualifies for that list, glad to say.

    As for disappointments?

    1. Psycho-Pass II
    2. Tokyo Ghoul
    3. Sidonia no Kishii
    4. Kiseijuu
    5. Zankyou no Terror
    6. Wizard Barristers: Benmashi Cecil

  40. h

    it's all about HxH vs mushishi but this year got the peak of chimera's arc so I guess HxH will end on top

    Enzo

    aren't you going to review HxH latest chaptes (-_-),I have been wating for ages

  41. I haven't been able to bring myself to read the latest chapter yet…

  42. h

    why is that?I assumed that you'd run for more HxH

  43. e

    Parting is all we need of hell… says Emily.

  44. h

    to keep that feeling I didnt finish HxH but that's only 9 chapters,hopefully togashi will be back by the start of next year

  45. Is that a Tower of God reference?

    j/k – Dickinson, I know.

  46. e

    It's Dickinson quote with a Kuroshitsuji's Snake spin to be precise. For a hell of blogger…

  47. e

    For a hell of A blogger… I've had to retype too many disappearing comments today :,D.

  48. G

    My personal top 10 is:

    1. Hunter X Hunter
    2. Mushi-Shi
    3. Yuki Yuuna
    4. Gin No Saji 2
    5. Uchuu Kyoudai
    6. Inari Konkon Koi Iroha
    7. Kuroshitsuji: Book of Circus
    8. Gugure! Kokkuri-san
    9. Isshuukan Friends
    10. Akame Ga Kill

    Others I liked were Tokyo Ghoul, Locodol, Nagi no Asakura, Gokukokono Brynhildr, Hitsugi no Chiaki, Sidonia no Kishi, Rail Wars and the best short of the year was Yama no Susume 2.

  49. Y

    Sorry, but… "She asks difficult questions (the entire "Pork Bowl" storyline is about asking one such question) and never cops out with easy answers" is just not true.

    She does cop out with an easy "answer" which basically is: "but it tastes so good!"

    She infuses the whole issue with a false sense of subtlety by painting a picture using a myriad of different shades all based on the same single color: speciesism.

    The whole thing is a love letter to animal exploitation, and false advertisement for an industry which has long stopped operating in the semi-humane way depicted in this anime.

  50. K

    "The whole thing is a love letter to animal exploitation, and false advertisement for an industry which has long stopped operating in the semi-humane way depicted in this anime"

    And sorry how do you know that is true for the farms she grew up in and her family runs in Hokkaido?

  51. When one is convinced they have all the answers, there are no difficult questions. For the rest of us, stuff like Gin no Saji will have to suffice.

  52. Y

    It is true that the answer to whether or not it's ok to enslave, torture, rape, and murder, solely based on the fact that the victims don't look like us, seems rather obvious to me.

    But what I was pointing out was not that she didn't ask the question. It was that she did in fact provide and answer. And even if you agree that it's ok to subjugate billions of sentient beings to agony because they don't look like us, I would have thought you'd also agree that "but it tastes so good" was an easy answer, a cop out.

    @kim the point I'm making here is not that farms like that don't exist anymore. That's why factory farming accounts for somewhere between 95% to 99% depending on the stats and location, and not 100%. I didn't say it was a lie. I said it was false advertising for an industry desperately trying to mislead its customers with oxymorons like "humane slaughter" or "Happy meat".

    Peace!

  53. H

    Nice write up on Ping Pong! It's my top sports show from 2014, and definitely the most complete/satisfying anime experience this year.

    I'd quite happily watch Yuasa tackle pretty much anything after this.

  54. R

    I appreciate when people are honest to their voice and choices. That's why when you said you love Baby Steps, I trust and respect your choice, regardless of how I feel, which is judgemental. Ei-chan is a diligent and meticulous teenager. I like it when it shows his frustration and how he picks up from it — this only adds a human touch to creating this character. However — and sorry to say this, Enzo — I can't take Natchan. She's a disruptive and destructive force to my overall appreciation of the show. If she were not the female protagonist, I could have glossed over it…I probably am too stingy.

    As for my top 5 favourites:

    5) Shingeki no Bahamut: I like the fun yet intense ride of adventures. This show feels a lot more mature than many others, and it takes itself seriously.

    4) Norigami: I like the bond amongst Yato, Hiyori and Yukine, and the execution is very solid from start to finish.

    3) Haikyuu!!: This is probably one of the underrated sport shows in the western blogosphere, but I'm grateful that both you and Divine picked it up. It may attract lots of female fans in Japan — why not — and people may only notice its good production values, but this show goes totally beyond and deeper. It brings together a bunch of very genuine characters — main, side or one-time — and has an astute depiction of people's emotions in team sports — be it the winners, losers, coaches, players on benches, audience, fans. I like the focus on the meaning of team to a player — whether you're a genius or regular — and how that accentuates the bond and trust amongst the players in a team.

    2) Ping Pong: Yes — another sports show, but I love its deep character studies. Wenge is an amazing supporting character that totally stole the spotlight. It's just fascinating to watch how dialogue and animation merge to brilliantly tell a story.

    1) Hands down…Mushi-shi. This timeless show totally stole my heart. If I'm allowed to speak like a yogi, Mushi-shi is the epitome of reaching the highest in mind, soul and body in anime — it is just that profound, beautiful and powerful that judging the show's characters and writing becomes secondary.

    That's mine for 2014. For us, readers of LiA, I guess it now comes down to the battle between Hunter x Hunter and Mushi-shi to take away Enzo's anime of the year. One more sleep for the big reveal…

  55. I confess I'm a bit baffled at why Natchan is so divisive. But there's no denying she is. I look at her and then at other anime heroines (especially in Shounen and otaku titles) and to me, she stands out as a realistic and likeable character that's not demeaning to women in either of the ways 90‰-plus of anime girls are.

    But that's me, and there's no doubt many folks see her differently.

  56. R

    That's true if we compare her with heroines of otaku-pandering shows. Maybe I have a high expectations on Baby Steps, or maybe I'm just too stingy and skeptical this year…lol.

  57. D

    I love Natchan. She's a well-developed character with a distinct personality and clearly defined set of strengths, weaknesses, and goals, making her more than just "the romantic interest" but a unique individual and talented tennis player in her own right.

    My only gripe with her character is more of a subjective one, and it's that we don't get to see more of her being an awesome tennis player. Mostly it occurs off-screen, which sometimes makes her feel like she's defined solely by her relationship to Ei-chan (even though she isn't). But that's very much an intentional narrative decision rather than bad writing – the series follows Ei-chan, and in that sense *everyone* is primarily defined by their relationship to him. I just like her and want to see more of her killing it on the court, too.

  58. k

    "(especially with women – though much of that seems to stem from the Hoozuki-Hakutaku pairing)"

    Women, even women who like BL (not every woman does), can like things without only caring about BL ships. I promise. Just because a certain pairing has many doujinshi about it doesn't mean that that's the only, or even the main thing that certain demographic likes about it; never mind a much larger and much more varied demographic. (It's like saying that Hunter x Hunter has a crapload of doujinshi about various ships, BL and non-BL alike, so clearly the main reason anyone would like it is because of shipping.)

    Anyway, if I were to do a Top 5 it would go something like this:
    1) Ping Pong – objectively pretty much the best thing that happened this year in anime.
    2) Nobunaga Concerto – as unimpressed as I was with the first episode, the animation ended up being a stroke of genius, and the writing and the characters made this one of my absolute favorites this year. Also, the manga is awesome (and the live action adaptation is a disgrace).
    3) Shingeki no Bahamut – a lot was riding on the last episode, but it was stellar (with one little catch, but eh, nothing is perfect). The surprise of the year, never mind the season.
    4) Houzuki no reitetsu / Nozaki-kun – not much in common, but I can't choose…
    5) Garou – Surprise of the season #2. I didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I did.

  59. True, but the relationship between doujin sales and disc sales isn't conjectural – it's a provable fact that series that sell a lot of one usually sell a lot of the other. And seeing 100 circles at Comiket featuring the same pairing in their work is a pretty decisive statement about what's driving sales with Hoozuki.

  60. k

    But it's the other way around. The more popular something is the bigger its fandom is which means more doujinshi. Hoozuki already had a fanbase before the anime (with doujinshi and all), but the anime became popular -> the fandom grew -> resulted in more shipping and doujinshi. There's nothing that suggests that the women who bought the discs bought them because they're into Hoozuki x Hakutaku (in that case they could've just continued to read the manga and immerse themselves in fanworks).

    Anyway, what I was trying to get at is that just because there's Hoozuki x Hakutaku doujinshi out there doesn't automatically mean that the people who create that doujinshi (or the people who buy them) are only in it for the shipping, or even mainly in it for the shipping – never mind women in general, many of whom are not even into BL to begin with. Maybe I'm misunderstanding something, but it seems to me that you're suggesting that the main reason why women like this show is not that it's a funny offbeat comedy but because of shipping, and I find that a bit… well, you know.

  61. Considering you seem to misconstrue something offensive into just about every word I say, I don't find that entirely surprising.

  62. k

    …Are you serious?

    As I said – if I'm misunderstanding what said, but in that case I'd like to know what I interpreted wrong. And if I'm not misunderstanding it then I'm sorry but yes, I do find the suggestion offensive and misguided, especially with the way you seem to go out of your way to mention it every time you talk about this series.

  63. I'm not remotely certain why you seem so determined to pick a fight (every comment for the last year seems to be an attempt to do so) but whatever the reason, I'm just not interested in engaging in one. I'm moving on.

  64. k

    I'm not trying to pick a fight at all, actually. (And it was never my intention in any of my comments, for that matter.) I don't always agree with you, which is I think quite natural and could be dealt with by having a discussion, but if you're being defensive, well…

    Anyway, since you offered no explanation I'll just have to take that line the way I interpreted it, even if that wasn't your intention.

  65. e

    And so you did end up placing HxH on top and Mushishi Zoku at #2. I think I (and the HxH fan readers) can guess what your reasons for this are but I don't want to spoil.
    Personally I think Mushishi as a whole (I'm slowly catching up with the new episods… but it'll take a while as I'm also rewatching s1 on dvd an this isn't the kind of series lending itself to binge-watching) is one of those works that stand out in such a way I'd dare suggest them even to anime non-lovers with a taste for the thought-provoking and thoughtful. And it's structured in such a way that a new watcher can just sample one episode, any episode, and still get a taste of the whole and the worth of this work. It's a special and odd series yet it's a rather accessible one in this regard.
    Zoku – so far. See above – seems a tad less polished than s1 to me in terms of visuals and I miss some of the color-themed episode variety ( s1 Those Who Inhale The Dew with its palette of purples is a personal favourite of mine for instance) but in terms of content is as great as ever.
    I just can't place it lower than #1 in my own list. Even if in terms of characters and personal connection Killua is my baby, Madhouse adaptation is glorious quantity and quality, #16 and #35-36 are some of my favourite episodes ever and the very end of CA is a monster. Plus you know, 'enjoy the little detours'.

  66. R

    What are the chances? This is the third year in a row that my number one turns out to be your number two — Chihayafuru in 2012, Shin Sekai Yori in 2013 and now Mushi-shi. This is fun.

    Yes — it's a little harder to comment on Mushi-shi. It doesn't have a hard core fanbase like that of Type-Moon, and each episode of Mushi-shi is like putting me in awe from the inside that makes me speechless. I actually admired your ability to write every week when I read your reviews…and many many thanks for the reviews — for not only Mushi-shi but my favourite shows and those that I didn't have time to attend to — throughout 2014. Thanks, Enzo.

  67. G

    Hunter @ 1 and Mushi @ 2 is about as suree a thing as you can possibly get with GE.

  68. R

    I kinda knew it, but it's fun to make a bet even the chance was slim :-).

  69. T

    I was very sure Mushishi would get number 1 but now its safe to assume it will be HunterxHunter. I still need to start Mushishi season 2….all in good time…..

  70. R

    Enjoy season 2…you won't disappoint.

  71. D

    Somehow it feels wrong placing Mushishi #2 on a list of top anime. Even against the titan that is HxH.

  72. m

    hahah if i were to guess why no.1 hxh and no.2 mushishi, it would be that both are so great but hxh has been consistent for many more episodes. Mushishi is really great, and definitely a rarer gem than hxh, but well hxh has to tie a long, interweaving plot together which i find more difficult than mushishi's episodic structure. so long story short, both are great but hxh the anime was more difficult to accomplish

  73. D

    I liked GE's explanation. HxH is probably the best the shounen genre, or more broadly, the adventure anime genre can possibly produce.

    That said, Mushishi seems to transcend beyond the realm of anime, or even TV shows and ranks up there as a grand work of art. I would be hard pressed to rank it below any anime series in an "objective" manner.

    In terms of sheer enjoyment in a "fun" sense of the word, well, that's a different story.

  74. s

    I agree; i love mushishi more as well, but then again i wasnt as enthralled by hunterxhunter as others were. No doubt is it a very good anime, certainly one of the best in it's genre if not the best in terms of presenting an epic character focused adventure, but i never got the feeling that it really transcended anything let alone turned the genre on it's head. Nevertheless, it is a gripping emotional ride and a well-told adventure that can be taken seriously among all age-groups and that's the greatest praise i can give a series such as this

  75. s

    although it did subvert many many tropes

  76. D

    For my part, HxH is probably in my 10 all time anime. Though I am not hugely fond of the chimera ant arc when compared to the preceding Greed Island.

  77. m

    Sorry for my haphazard phrasing haha, was only guessing the reasons for the top 2 but well i guess i hit the jackpot XD
    Yea I agree, I really can't compare the two because Mushishi is so unconventional. Hunter x Hunter was more entertaining for me, but Mushishi was more memorable and healing (some episodes much more than others). Both are in my top 10 anime as well!(;

  78. S

    So when I started reading your blog a couple of years ago, I know you always made it clear that your three favourite anime were Moribito, FLCL, and Evangelion in that order. Has Hunter x Hunter surpassed any of them?

  79. A difficult question.

    Honestly, I would have to really sit down and think hard about where it fits in the all-time list. I know Moribito is still #1 and I suspect FLCL would be hard to dislodge as #2. But it might get interesting after that. There are other series that might enter into that mix, too.

  80. N

    I would love to see an "Enzo's Top 10 Anime (as of 2014)" or something post. If you did it in a similar style as these end of year posts, it would be quite fun to guess as you reveal them 😛

  81. w

    Fairly sure we could expect Cross Game and Outlaw Star in that list somewhere. Possibly Kare Kano & Last Exile too..

  82. D

    I'm surprised you rank FLCL so highly. I haven't watched it in what must be nearing a decade now, but I don't remember it being so monumental as to give the likes of HxH or Mushishi a run for their money. Perhaps I'll need to rewatch it some time.

  83. J

    Now that we've got the top, I want to know the bottom 10. There doesn't have to be a long reasoning behind the rankings, but I'm just curious as to what you HATED now that we know what you LOVED.

  84. Sorry, I prefer to avoid doing those sorts of lists because I think both the self and the universe are better off without them. And this year it would take way, way too long anyway.

  85. R

    This is a very well-written and passionate post for Hunter X Hunter, eloquently making it worth your number 1 for two years in a row. While I still love Mushi-shi more, the Chimera Ant arc is my favourite arc of the show — it's intellectually stimulating and emotionally compelling.

    Thanks Enzo for all your great reviews in 2014. It's been fun. Look forward to reading more interesting and thought-provoking posts here in 2015. Wishing you and everyone a happy and successful 2015.

  86. G

    Everyone has their own likes and dislikes. FLCL might be #1 to him and your #1 could be something vastly different. Its why anime is so great, so many different shows and genres for so many different people.

  87. D

    True, obviously, though one of the reasons I read this blog is I have similar tastes to Enzo. I tend to like series like Dragonball Z and don't like series like Uchouten Kazoku, but other than those types of series our tastes tend to align.

  88. f

    Did you end up watching most of the entire Hunter x Hunter marathon the last few days Enzo?

  89. No, as I said I'm only 23 episodes in. That was over the course of about 5 weeks.

  90. C

    Wow your really have a different perspective than I. Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun is the only one that we share in the top ten.
    Thanks for the hard work on this write up, Its great to get a totally different perspective from my own.

  91. 7

    Baby Steps: "a few scenes were added (like Nachan as the "Meat Bun Girl" at the culture fest)"

    Actually, that scene wasn't anime-original. Check out chapter 56 and go a couple pages in. The scene is almost shot-for-shot consistent with the manga.

    I agree with you though, I love the manga and the anime sure did it justice.

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