Consider this first entry something of a loose first half of a list.
The other works are still getting ready for their individual posts, and we need opening acts for this dinner party.
(Part one of a six post series featuring my favorite anime productions of 2014; consider reading the others!)
Depending on how one felt about my Anime Admirers 2013 posts, the return of this particular format would be seen either as a great welcome or a very, very long and roundabout way to go about a favorites of the year list. Especially in February.
Personally, I like the format enough to do so again. Making use of the opportunity for features (that are hopefully more durable than an at a glance list) give you a better idea of my feelings. Especially for the upper end. Talking more at length about series I either greatly enjoyed writing about episodically over the course of the year, or in some cases productions I have not yet been able to say nice words about in one way or another. And I do not mind posting this series in February, as it allows me time in January to finish productions I was already watching on the side that would qualify.
I can not watch everything of course, even if I can mark off several dozen. Even things I would want to see, like The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, are not always available in my area in a timely manner and thus can not be considered due to my having not seen them. So, this does deal more in productions that have ample streaming availability.
Here are my basic ground rules, same as before:
– Productions started before 2014, but ended in 2014, are eligible.
– Productions started in 2014, but have not ended, are not eligible.
– Personal favorites does not always mean critically best
Do not take this post, or the posts that will continue the series over the coming week, as some objective quality curve. I even cut out some anime I thought were “better,” but may not have represented my 2014 as much.
Consider this post and the half dozen that will follow afterward more as a simple collection of love letters to some neat things I appreciated spending my time with over the months of 2014.
A nice scrapbook, if you will, and at the same time swell start if you do not watch many productions as they air.
Sega Hard Girls (Hi☆sCoool! SeHa Girls)
In the process of putting this list together, which necessitates excluding far more shows than will ever make it on the final count, I had to kick things around in my head for quite a time to see if this would stay.
I have a longstanding connection to Sega as a consumer. I have purchased their video game consoles, when they were still in the industry for that sort of thing. I have many games crafted by their development teams. I enjoyed comics and cartoons based off their properties as a kid. There are lots of good memories wrapped up in that, in addition to the side seeing their financial meltdown, market withdrawal, and floundering around. Something like Sega Hard Girls, where the consoles of the past are anthropomorphized as cute little anime girls to run around the wonderful worlds of Sega is something inherently loaded with a lot of potential for cynical considerations.
But, this is also a year The Lego Movie shattered both critical and box office records, which is a point of comparison I kept going back to mentally. These kinds of products, based as they are on things with cultural touchstones and much as merchandise sales values, are often perceived and expected to be rehashed and cold servings of marketing muscle. And with good reason: they often are just that, and nothing more. But, sometimes, they can be good. Swell, even. Great. They can remind us of why we connected with certain things to begin with that we may have played with a long time ago, or to use as a means to have a common connection with those younger than ourselves or just flat out different life experiences.
I think, if Sega Hard Girls had been bad, if it had felt just as cold as these kinds of initiatives often are, I would have been disappointed by it or even rejected it. All the fun trivia and references in the world mean little if I am not engaged in the experience, after all, and there are encyclopedia’s if I just want to nostalgia crawl.
The series comes courtesy of Sōta Sugahara directing, as well as co-writing with Masayuki Kibe. Sugahara is responsible for directing, animation, and character design duties relating to gdgd Fairies, the second season of which was one of my favorite anime productions last year and he has been fun to follow. Kibe, meanwhile, is a writer for GameCenter CX (also known as Retro Game Master), a television show of nearly two hundred episodes where Shinya Arino of comedy duo Yoiko tries to beat various video games in a day, with other assorted segments.
It is a swell combination in practice, and an aggressive risk at that which happened to pay off. Sugahara’s style of using relatively cheap 3D graphical assets (gdgd Fairies being filmed in parts via MikuMikuDance, of all things) works with a keen eye for how such things should actually look pleasing together as television media. Sega Hard Girls is a definite visual upgrade, to be sure, though this is also helped in part by being able to film “on location” using materials from previously released games.
While gdgd Fairies ranked far higher last year, and there are reasons for that, I do not think that should itself take away from what value Sega Hard Girls was able to deliver on.
One of the last Dreamcast games was a roleplaying game called Segagaga, where Sega is trying to claw its way back from a 3% console market share. There is a certain quantity of dark humor or even a fear of what happens next in such a thing, especially at the time, as celebratory as the game was. Sega Hard Girls has a cushion of nearly fifteen years since the Dreamcast left, and so it gets to look back and try to see what we used to see. And get to laugh at itself a whole lot more in the process.
And I feel there is, indeed, a value in that.
Sega Hard Girls is currently available for streaming via Crunchyroll.
I Can’t Understand What My Husband Is Saying (Danna ga Nani wo Itteiru ka Wakaranai Ken)
I have a lot of time for shows that improve themselves over the course of their run.
Beyond the mere notion that this is a far better scenario than the other way around, there are other benefits as well. With the right mindset, one can feel they are getting their grasp on the characters at practically the same rate as the production staff, which is fascinating on the occasions things do click in that manner. That one is learning with them, in a way. This is something which tends to happen more often with short episode series, as the punishment to time commitment ratio is far less and the initial episodes may have some kinks that need to be worked out.for time or pacing.
So is my experience with I Can’t Understand What My Husband Is Saying, but I would not let that deter you as again: it is on this list for reasons relating to my overall enjoyment of the finished product.
The show is based on a four panel manga by Cool-kyō Shinja, and true enough to the husband of the series being a blogger new releases go up online first before their print editions. The effective speaker of the mouthful of a title is Kaoru, a twenty five year old office employee who is two years older than her nerdy stay at home husband.
What I enjoy about the show, and what many others have come to appreciate as well, is setting the select side character aside (like leading husband Hajime’s brother), there is a fair amount of give and take for a short little comedy series. Hajime trying to find a “normal” job so his wife can have better and prouder material to talk about to the neighbors, or cooking because he is good at it and it makes him feel more useful. For as much as Kaoru’s situation could be played as a nagging infuriated wife out of some cliched sitcom script, she is anything but. She has her own vices, like smoking and drinking, and while she may not always understand her husband (hence the title) she does love him just the same. They do not feel like two random individuals from opposite ends of the spectrum for a coldly calculated hijinks ensue parade, but as a couple one can see actually choosing to be together with each other.
It is a series that, for as much as the characters are adults and do have adult responsibilities and conversations (within a comedic series of course), they are in their own ways still young twenty something figuring things out. That applies both to themselves and each other, in concert, as once one is in a relationship there is no way to keep things so separate. So particularly for those who may be the same kind of post-college and older age of the characters, there are going to be moments that will definitely resonate.They have either been there in their own relationships, are there, or perhaps in varying levels both fear and wish for where there even is.
There is a particular episode where Itsuki Imazaki takes over near every production control role, from storyboards and direction to the point of animating every cut of the several minutes himself. It forms a highlight of not just the show, but a key series of clips for the year I will keep with me for quite a long time. I would be shocked if not even a few others I may introduce the series too could not see some of themselves in what transpires.
Even outside of that though, I do like shorts in general. I think anyone who has read this blog and reads enough of my writing long enough would definitely see this though other short shows I have written about in one way or another, in additional to various small films. Heck, Miss Monochome made the list last year, as I do enjoying pointing out shorts. It can be tricky to find a place to include them up against productions both longer in total episode count as well as per week running time.
I Can’t Understand What My Husband Is Saying was a short series which stood out to me this year enough to want to include it for promotion on the list. All being said and done one can watch the entire run in less than an hour, and get some nice highlights for their time.
I do not recommend powering through the initial phase to get to the late game with your actual relationships of course, but in this case I think everyone will understand.
I Can’t Understand What My Husband Is Saying is streaming via Crunchyroll.
Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun (Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun)
To ask out your high school crush, and in turn be crushed by their interpreting your confession as a request for an autograph and to be their assistant.
So goes one series of awkward moments for Chiyo Sakura, who happens to get herself wrapped up in the secret shoujo manga career of her schoolmate Umetarō Nozaki. It is a nice enough set up by itself, and one could probably try to make the series just about that one joke. Certainly many a work has painted their marketing concept, title, and every fiber of their being right on the identical line, especially if one wanders over the very long titles in the light novel aisle these days. Here though, the concept is not just one simple misunderstanding drawn out well past its sell by date, but a provision for a vehicle. Other folks from school help out on Umetarō’s manga career as well (with the author himself [not so] secretly basing his characters on people from his real life), and as they form those connections with each other the series is just as much about their personal affinities or frustrations as much as any of it may have to do with manga creation.
Something Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun understands on a very intimate level is the value of character acting. Which is to say, the physical space they have on screen and using it to sell their mannerisms. In manga form it would have to do with positioning, framing, such, and in animation the way they move, breathe, lumber, slouch, and so on. Not merely reaction faces and comedic timing (though the series is spot on and gained fast internet cred for that), but everything about momentum and bounce that plays in, out, and around that. Umetarō moves appropriately and differently for a character of his tall size. Yū Kashima, who is similarly tall on the girls side of the cast, does not merely have only a command of her physical person when being theatrical in the Drama Club and forgotten about later. She is consistent in things like how she tucks herself in when being pushed around on a cart and such, continuing to move like someone as tall as her would need to be comfortable (or not comfortable, depending on the scene).
This is not synonymous with realistic, mind you. Characters do warp and go super deformed for comedic situations at will and with great gusto. But their physical actions carry weight and impact in either mode because the underlying skeletal structures, subtler motions, and personal mannerisms at work feel so keenly connected, which can at times go out the window in comedy animation. It is a strong effect to see in practice, and well worth it being very time consuming on the behind the scenes level. I feel it is a big part of why the series was able to connect so well with many other viewers too. Seeing characters do something like bounce off walls running up the stairs or being prepared to slump over a table has more heft due to the range of motions applies, and in turn is synergistic with what the script may be aiming to sell as funny.
This goes beyond general platitudes of saying a series had swell animation or the like, but rather specific things of focus by the staff. A palpable sense that they are being treated more as individuals on screen who move in their own ways over more shortsighted choices to just get the cuts out the door.
Even Chiyo’s trademark gigantic red polka dot bows, which could easily come across as if they were tacked on or like unmoving decals in another series, have a lot of attention applied to trying to make them look like they belong on her head and act as part of her larger person.
Gundam Build Fighters
A fun robot show where there are blue skies and nobody dies.
That is not even a spoiler so much as it may as well be the mission statement bolted to the production team doors. Or perhaps snap fit and polycaps, given the model kit angle. As with Sega Hard Girls, the prerelease consideration towards this series was also somewhat suspicious. The Model Suit Gunpla Builders Beginning G OVA as a proof of concept release was interesting in wanting to promote the use of the famous Gunpla model kits as battle game objects in the way many card games have been able to use animated series to pump up the visual flair of their source material. But as an idea that could carry a full television production, matters were uncertain.
There is no shortage of Gunpla for Bandai for want to show off, after all, and giving them their own featured show seems like an advertising dream on a level where it is almost amazing it was not done sooner. But there was, again, a darkness and worry.
Would it be as cold and infomercial like as it sounded.
What happened next was quite a strange experience for many, as the weeks played out over social media. Word spread that the series was actually having a lot of fun with itself and itself world, the opportunities it had to show of. The series was being streamed by Sunrise on YouTube, and so it so available on a wide level to boot, in turn pulling in ever more viewers and increasing levels of pleasant hype on a weekly basis to match the climb through the tournaments.
Gundam Build Fighters is, in a sense, The King of Fighters Dream Match ‘98 of the franchise.
What I mean by that is, more than even the Gundam series which do pull in units from different eras or timelines for narrative reasons, the series gets to have as wide a mix of machines as it wants. Beyond this however, because this is a battle simulation game, it does allow for the way fights are conducted to change. The series splurged for high level and passionate two dimensional mechanical animators, of which there is an ever decreasing line of in an industry leaning ever more on 3DCGI for cars and the like to cut some corners on a weekly schedule. Here Sunrise gave them the keys to the toy box and allowed them to go nuts. Any and all of the tricks they might not have been able to break out for quite some time, in one way or another. It is a show whose production staff constantly mention how much fun they have working on it, having the ability to smash together anything they wish from the entire armory of Gundam history. We are even well into the point where various staff would have seen quite different Gundam series growing up, adding a lot of fun perspectives and passions. And it shows.
As a routine matter, given the versus game aspect of Gunpla Battle as an in-universe sport, fights have weapon destroying and limb shattering damage on he regular. Any given fight is able to send up what would in some other productions be main character death, mid-season and end finale, or the like, combat sequences are rolled out with the lavishly animated damage levels to match. As Gunpla build quality and repairs do factor into performance, sometimes the show wants to make that a narrative line, in other cases it is easier to just build a new kit. In either event, the series is a good hearted little shounen battler, a G Gundam but with its sport not being one with actual threat of collateral damage and death.
There is a fine line with some of this, of course. It does seem strange to attempt to sell the series as “guilt free robot action,” for instance. It is the recognition it is so full of blue skies and the ability to just build a fighter again while we at the same time get all the lavish skeletal frame crunching mecha action one would hope for in popcorn robot entertainment.
But the series is also a sporting event, and the animation team did bring their A game. It never stumbles there, even increasing the visual pressure as fights become increasing more high stakes later and later in. And sakuga crowds, Gundam fans, and casual watchers alike were overjoyed.
Of all possible productions, the Gundam model kit show is the best television series the franchise has had since the turn of the millennium.
Gundam Build Fighters is streaming via the official GundamInfo YouTube Channel.
Space☆Dandy Season One
An erratic, lurching, scrambling entity. Both itself as an episodic anthology production, and some of the production methods that I am sure made for some tough crunch hours given that this series aired on Cartoon Network’s Toonami programming block with an English simuldub in tow.
Space☆Dandy is in many respect something that would have been very tricky to get off the ground without the considerable critical acclaim of Shinichirō Watanabe. As someone whose works have on multiple occasion found him in a position where his productions have ended up more popular in the west than his own domestic market though, being willing to push for and manage a series like this lent it considerable weight and marketability. Of course, those who interpret the project as “from the director of Cowboy Bebop” and expecting more of the same as if it were a spiritual sequel would be highly disappointed in more ways than one. Space☆Dandy takes extreme delight in being as bright, colorful, ungrounded, and using only the loosest justifications of multiple universes to justify how it can snap back for different adventures each week from impossible resolutions the last time around.
A crucial character lifestyle and simultaneously thematic choice that drives the Dandy experience is to push outward. Explore. Find something alien, unknown, and bring it back for registration and processing.
The series cycles through a industry wide rolodex of creators. Every episode rotates multiple aspects of production, from the scriptwriter and storyboard artists, to the animation and episode director themselves. This goes far beyond normal and expected levels of freelance and contracting gigs in the professional anime scene, to encoding it as the goal and structure of the entire endeavor.
A core cast, featuring ladies man (if only in his head) Dandy, robot vacuum QT, and the large cat-ferret creature from Betelgeuse named Meow. Some side characters, like Honey, who is Dandy’s favorite waitress at his most beloved restaurant chain in the entire universe. Scarlet from the Alien Registration Center and her consistent wondering of how much time Dandy will waste of hers this time around. The borderline Wile E. Coyote level Dr. Gel, in his quest across the stars to capture Dandy. In a series full of radical and chaotic shifts in tones and objectives from one week to the next, depending on which creative group was running the show that episode, the consistent presence of these characters and how they will navigate their way through their newest mishap or adventure acts as an anchoring point regardless of what fate befalls by the end credits.
To be sure, an all the more given the ambitious nature of its international release and production, some episodes are just flat out not as strong as others. Combine this with how some escapes seem bit more hedged than others; for instance Dandy’s fascination with Boobies, his preferred “breastaurant”, is played up way more in some episodes (and especially early on), seemingly out of concern for if the show would work on late night western television audiences and the kind of jokes one may often find there.
While I would not say any episodes are outright disastrous, all things being equal some I may never rewatch outside of a larger series runthrough. But when the episodes click for a viewer, the series does run on all cylinders. Highlights for me at least include entries like “There’s Always Tomorrow, Baby,” where the crew visit Meow’s homeworld and the seemingly dead end life he wanted to get away from, or “A Merry Companion Is a Wagon in Space, Baby,” where our over the top space raygun man finds himself watching over a little girl. “Plants Are Living Things, Too, Baby,” deploys Masaki Yuasa collaborator Eunyoung Choi with multiple productions roles, and I found it delightful both in its own right and as a fantastic preview for what I hope will be a long and successful career for her as she begins to exercise more of her own auteur visions. “I’m Never Remembering You, Baby” would not be out of place as an episode of The Twilight Zone or Doctor Who. For any fumbles the series may be seen to make, it routinely strikes back with great force and inventive energy. While a television series, it likely behooves the viewer to treat the complete experience more as a collection of short films or the like, and how they will find their own favorites.
Space☆Dandy very much wishes to function as akin to various industry jam sessions. The opportunity to mess around with ideas, concepts, and visuals or set pieces they may have wanted to toy around with for some time now. As a creative outlet, a series of demo reels, I feel it will have a lot of deservedly positive effects on numerous careers for years to come.
There is, of course, the second season which also aired this year.
But, as far as this series of reflections is concerned, perhaps that is a subject for a little later on.
That’s all for this post!
Remember, this is part one of a seven part line of posts, so there will be more in this little feature series in the days to come! The looming posts will be for individual productions though, so this was merely what would constitute a loosely assembled first half of a favorites list.
I hope you will enjoy flipping through the complete set as much as I did looking back on some of what I spent my entertainment time with in 2014.