It’s “Oscar” season, and again time to pay tribute to the best anime had to offer in 2014. And once again my earnest congratulations to Studio Ghibli for representing anime at the Academy Awards this year – this time (at long last) in the person of Takahata Isao.
Best Song: “ENAMEL” by Sid – Kuroshitsuji: Book of Circus OP
This was a pretty decent year of OPs and EDs, but I think this one is my overall favorite. Not only is it a terrific song that perfectly suits the mood of the series, but the OP animation itself is a classic.
Honorable Mention: “Believe in Yourself” by Mao Abe (Baby Steps OP), “Witch Activity” by KMM Dan (Witch Craft Works ED)
Best Soundtrack: Mushishi Zoku Shou
I think the reason I pick Mushishi here, in the end, is because the music is a major reason why the anime is actually able to improve on what’s already a great manga. The soundtrack is almost like a character itself, it’s so integral a part of creating the mood in every episode.
Honorable Mention: Space Dandy, Shingeki no Bahamut Genesis
Best Original Screenplay: Various – Space Dandy
If there’s one barometer that really shows the decline in anime over the last couple of years, it’s the degradation of the quality of original series (I can’t even in good conscience name two “honorable mentions” this year). These used to be a bastion of imagination and creative ambition, but increasingly they’re generic marketing gimmicks designed to cash in on whatever flavor of the week the production committee is chasing. Space Dandy was a happy exception, a canvas on which some of the best writers in anime (and out) painted some amazing pictures.
Honorable Mention: Hasegawa Keiichi (Shingeki no Bahamut Genesis)
Best Adapted Screenplay: Kamishiro Tsutomu – Hunter X Hunter 2011
As with the Oscars this is the more competitive category in anime most years, and that’s never been more true. Why does Kamishiro-sensei jump from honorable mention to the top spot this year? Apart from the fact that Hunter X Hunter was again the year’s best series, it was never harder to adapt than it was in 2014. As with Mushishi, the studio achieved the remarkable feat of making a historically great manga even better, and managing to navigate the narrative minefield of the Byzantine and challenging “Chimera Ant” arc was a huge achievement.
Honorable Mention: Yuasa Masaaki (Ping Pong), Yoshino Hiroyuki (Kuroshitsuji: Book of Circus)
Best Art Direction: Takeda Yusuke/Su Rok Jeong – Hoozuki no Reitetsu
As always this is a tough category with a number of great contenders, but I give the nod to Hoozuki no Reitetsu here. It was a lovely series to look at, with it’s lovingly depicted whimsical takes on Buddhist art mixed with modern absurdities. Takeda-sensei shared an honorable mention last year for Uchouten Kazoku.
Honorable Mention: Waki Takeshi (Mushishi Zoku Shou), Ishiki Mio (Hunter X Hunter 2011)
Best Animation: Space Dandy
While it never looked the same two weeks in a row thanks to its cavalcade of art and animation directors, Space Dandy was consistently one of the best-looking series in anime history.
Honorable Mention: Haikyuu!!, Hunter X Hunter 2011
Best Character Design: Onda Naoyuki – Shingeki no Bahamut Genesis
To be honest, there weren’t many shows this year in which the character design especially stood out for me. That’s why Bahamut is a pretty easy choice here, because the character designs are so antithetical to what we usually see in modern anime.
Honorable Mention: Oshima Miwa (Gugure! Kokkuri-san), Ito Yoshiyuki (Space Dandy)
Best Supporting Actor: Okamoto Nobuhiko as Mikoshiba Mikoto (Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun)
Okamoto-san’s performance as best girl Mikorin in Nozaki-kun is a comic tour de force. It’s a great character as written, yes, but Okamoto absolutely nails everything that makes that the case on the page and brings even more to the performance.
Honorable Mention: Uchiyama Kouki as Meruem (Hunter X Hunter 2011), Nagasako Takashi as King Enma (Hoozuki no Reitetsu)
Best Supporting Actress: Fujimura Ayumi as Neferpitou, Hunter X Hunter 2011
This isn’t an especially strong category this year, but H x H has several performances that merit consideration. I give the nod to Fujimura-san, who imbued the first-born of Meruem’s Royal Guard (Pitou’s gender may be forever a mystery, but Fujimura’s is not) with a real sense of menace while still maintaining the childlike aspects which are such a vital component of the character.
Honorable Mention: Inoue Kikuko as Palm Siberia (Hunter X Hunter 2011), Izawa Shiori as Kuraishi Tanpopo (Witch Craft Works)
Best Actor: Kimura Ryouhei as Hachiken Yuugo, Gin no Saji
Kimura-san seems strangely under-appreciated as a seiyuu – he’s rarely mentioned in discussions of the elite circles, and for whatever reason has played almost entirely supporting roles of late. His work in Gin no Saji is the consummate understated Kimura performance, and it’s the heart and soul of this wonderful series. Kimura doesn’t do anything fancy here – he just brings incredible honesty and likability to Hachiken, and in the process largely carries the series on his shoulders.
Honorable Mention: Nakano Yuuto as Ginko (Mushishi Zoku Shou), Yamashita Daiki as Onoda Sakamichi (Yowamushi Pedal)
Best Actress: Megumi Han as Gon Freecs, Hunter X Hunter 2011
It may seem like a bit of a “Lifetime Achievement” syndrome in finally giving the top prize to Han-san in the year that Gon played the smallest on-screen role in Hunter X Hunter’s run, but it’s not. Gon’s scenes may not have dominated the screen time, but they were brutal and intense – and Han was absolutely astonishing when she was called upon. Her performance in Episode 116 is, for me, one of the most intense and powerful in anime history.
Honorable Mention: Sakamoto Maaya as Ciel Phantomhive (Kuroshitsuji: Book of Circus), Maeda Rena as Nike Remercier (Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii)
Best Director: Yuasa Masaaki, Ping Pong
The truth is I could have given this to either of the runners-up (it would have been a repeat for Koujina-sensei), because the top three in this category are pretty much dead-even in my view. Yuasa gets the nod for the way he definitively told his story in 11 perfectly-paced episodes, and for the way he used sheer creative genius to make Ping Pong visually stunning despite an obviously meager budget.
Honorable Mention: Koujina Hiroshii (Hunter X Hunter 2011), Nagahama Hiroshi (Mushishi Zoku Shou)
Best Romance: Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii
I confess a certain bias in favor of Soredemo Sekai because the main relationship reminds me of the one in Otoyomegatari, one of my favorite manga. But above and beyond that, Nike and Livius are the most charming couple of the year, the unlikely nature of their pairing be damned. It’s so rare to see an anime romance where both parties are strong, smart and independent and come to love each other in a slow and believable manner, based on a growing respect for the other.
Honorable Mention: Isshuukan Friends, Majimoji Rurumo
Best Comedy: Hoozuki no Reitetsu
It was a decent year for comedy (one of the few genres for which that’s true) and for me, Hoozuki no Reitetsu was the best of the bunch. It’s one of the handsomest comedies in recent memory, and one of the smartest to boot. As most great anime comedies can, it generates humor in a wide range of styles – and manages to be highbrow and lowbrow in equal measure.
Honorable Mention: Space Dandy, Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun
Best Drama: Hunter X Hunter 2011
Maybe you could make a case (though not convincing enough for me) for H x H not to land in this category in prior years, but not 2014. “Chimera Ant” was a dark, psychologically dense, intense and brutal epic the likes of which shounen anime has never seen. It’s a masterpiece of writing and of adaptation, and it takes the top prize in this category despite some pretty strong competition.
Honorable Mention: Ping Pong, Mushishi Zoku Shou
Best Series: Hunter X Hunter 2011
Do I really need to say any more in praise of Hunter X Hunter 2011 at this point? Could I if I had to? It’s the best, period – the best show of 2013 and 2014, the best shounen anime ever, and probably the best manga adaptation ever. It takes a special series to relegate the sublime Mushishi to second place, but Hunter X Hunter 2011 is as special as they come.
Honorable Mention: Mushishi Zoku Shou, Ping Pong
Best Picture: Giovanni no Shima
Giovanni’s Island is far from a perfect film – it can be a bit heavy-handed at times – but it’s a powerful and engaging story with a lovely artistic sensibility. I treasure stories like this, because it’s hard to imagine they aren’t going to continue to become rarer and rarer as anime closes ranks ever more tightly around the commercially safe and unambitious in every format.
Honorable Mention: Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Boku-tachi wa Mada Shiranai: The Movie
As always, sincere thanks to everyone for following and supporting Lost in America in 2014. Compiling this list of winners was a reminder that 2014 really was an undistinguished year for anime, but also that the two top series of the year were true greats that would stand out in any era. Winter doesn’t exactly have 2015 off to a stellar start, but once again Spring seems to offer at least the hope of better things to come. As always, I’ll be here to praise the best and parse the rest, and I hope all of you will be right there with me. Here’s hoping 2015 is a better year for all of us and for anime too.