There’s good in every anime year, and 2014 was certainly no exception.
Another anime year is in the books, and let’s be honest – in anime terms, it sucked. If it weren’t for a show that started in 2011 and a sequel to a 2005 series, for my money it would rank as the worst anime year on record (and two split-cours that started in 2013 were on the Top 10 list as well). And with the overall trend (2012 being the exception) and the early projections for Winter 2015, there’s every reason to be concerned about the medium’s future. At least Spring looks decent, though we’re a long way out yet.
When looking for trends in 2014, the one that stands out for me is the fact that manga adaptations accounted for 90% of the Top 10 list, and 85% of the Top 20. It’s certainly not unusual for manga to be the biggest source of good anime, but I’ve never seen it dominate to that extent. Maybe that tells us that the perceived decline in the creative ambition of original anime is very real, and that light-novel adaptations continue to be the anchor dragging anime down. It’s also worth noting that 2013 saw several novel adaptations crack the list, but none did in 2014. Novels are usually a reliable source of good anime, and I hope studios return to that wellspring in 2015.
As far as genre distribution goes, the two that had a decent year were clearly sports and comedy. As for seasons, what stands out is that Fall 2014 didn’t have a single series crack the Top 10 list – though to be fair, Kiseijuu and Akatsuki no Yona have a chance to do so in 2015. Spring wins numerically, as is most often the case, though I don’t think any one season in 2014 stands out as especially memorable.
Here’s the breakdown on the Top 10 list:
- Fall 2011: 1
- Summer 2013: 1
- Fall 2013: 1
- Winter 2014: 2
- Spring 2014: 3
- Summer 2014: 2
- Fall 2014: 0
- Madhouse: 1
- A-1 Pictures: 2
- Tatsunoko: 1
- Artland: 1
- Pierrot: 1
- BONES: 1
- WIT: 1
- TMS: 1
- Dogakobo: 1
The studio everyone loves to hate, A-1 Pictures, remains the only studio to place on every LiA Top 10 list so far. It was an excellent year for another studio everyone rags on too, Pierrot – not only did they crack the Top 10, but they had the #11-12 spots, and didn’t miss out on the Top 20 by a whole lot with Tokyo Ghoul. The thing with Pierrot is that while they do have their share of cheap-looking underbid series, they’re very adept at faithful adaptations, especially of shoujo. And in “Ghoul”, while they took some liberties they did so with an Oscar-winning writer/director with a real sense of style.
By Source Material:
- Manga: 9
- Original: 1
Again, total domination by manga here, with only Space Dandy breaking up the party. I think the gap in overall creative ambition and diversity between manga and anime is growing wider every year, and this certainly does nothing to dissuade me of that belief.
All in all, this is certainly a year I’m not sorry to see in the rear-view mirror in anime terms. Isolated voices from inside the industry are stepping up their warnings that the current economic model is unsustainable and that the industry is in a creative death-spiral, but it remains to be seen whether those voices will be heard – Japan’s industries (as anyone who knows its recent economic and political history will tell you) are institutions that are remarkably resistant to change.
As far as non-TV anime goes, there’s not a whole lot to latch onto there either. OVAs continued their progression from vehicles of experimentation to cross-promotional tools for TV anime. It was a down year for cinema as well, with only Giovanni’s Island standing out as a really interesting original anime for the big screen. Anno Hideki’s (he’s been one of the loudest voices warning of the dangers facing anime) “Animator Expo” series or short web videos has been an interesting wrinkle – inconsistent but offering a worthwhile platform for non-commercial creativity. And we’ve seen a rising interest in crowd-sourcing as a viable avenue for anime fundraising – a development about which I have decidedly mixed feelings. If getting fans to pay up front is the only way for interesting anime to be produced I despair for the prospects of the industry – and to be honest, most of what we’ve seen pitched for crowd-sourcing has been seemingly quite commercial to begin with.
That’s it for this year’s wrap-up – a heartfelt and enthusiastic thank-you to everyone who helped make it another year of growth for LiA. 2015 figures to be a year of transition for me, as I’m not certain where I’m going to be living – and upheavals in my life may cause periodic interruptions in my ability to deliver daily content to the site (rest assured, I’ll keep you posted before such events happen). As always I look forward to spending 2015 with you, and I hope it’s a great year for anime, manga, and all of us as well!