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Staff Picks: Our Favorite Anime of 2014

Welcome to our third and final Staff Picks post for 2014! After listing our favorite games and manga, as selected by our staff contributors and guest writers, we’re bringing it home with our main focus here at Ani-Gamers: anime. First off, we’ll list off our collective Top 3 anime from 2014, then list our individual favorites for each writer.

– Evan Minto, Editor-in-Chief


Ani-Gamers Anime of the Year

#3: Ping Pong: The Animation

Ink: As if the personal drama in this sports anime isn’t enough of a draw, add powerful visual storytelling under the direction of Masaaki Yuasa, visual development/background art by Kevin Aymeric, and one of the most amazing punk-infused OPs ever and you have a tour de force of fun with some of the ugliest beautiful you’ll ever have the pleasure of watching week to week or in a quick five-some-hour marathon. Ping Pong: The Animation adapts the seinen manga by Taiyo Matsumoto. Although I’ve never read it or seen the touted live-action adaptation, what makes the anime so special is that it can break all the rules by combining aspects of all mediums. The camera angles alone, in both their mimicry of live action and unbound capability therein, make the series worth watching, while the realistic and surrealistic depictions of very human characters as they lose and find themselves via the sport of table tennis ensure rapt attention. I don’t remember many week-to-week or episode-to-episode cliffhangers, but every episode was thoroughly engrossing thanks to the way the animation complemented the times and trials of the cast.


#2: Space Brothers

Jared Nelson: In this year full of fantastic shows, one stood out for me above all others: Space Brothers, based on Chuuya Koyama’s award winning astronaut manga. I have never watched a show where I cared more about the characters in it (not even Chihayafuru, y’all). To be fair, its a show that started in 2012 (and was even nominated by Ink in that year). And yes, Space Brothers had 87 episodes to build up its world, plotlines, and characters, but in its final cour this show gave us something different and it was more emotionally evocative than anything else I watched last year.

Stories about people struggling to achieve their dreams appear often in anime. Most of the time, heroes become legends, or find their one true love, or score the game winning shot. And for most of its run, Space Brothers was no different. But in its final cour, Space Brothers becomes a story of people desperately trying to hold on to the reality of their achieved dreams, and that isn’t something you get from most anime. For that reason, and for memorable characters you can’t help but cheer for, Space Brothers is my top show of 2014.


#1: Kill la Kill

Evan Minto: As it was still running at the end of the year, I deliberately left Kill la Kill out of last year’s Staff Picks. My two picks from last year (Inferno Cop and Little Witch Academia), however, were the closest substitutes, as they also happened to be the first two projects from anime studio Trigger, creators of Kill la Kill. So, at long last, let’s give Trigger its due for Kill la Kill too.

From its first moments, the show hits like a jolt of animated electricity. Our hero, Ryuko, is a tough-as-nails transfer student on the hunt for the woman who killed her father, and Satsuki, the totalitarian student council president at Honnouji Academy, is her only lead. The clash between these two headstrong young women, which weaves in superpowered school uniforms, nudist secret societies, and sewing machine guns, ends up being a really great show through a bizarre concoction of self-aware anime stereotypes and a scratchy, in-your-face visual style. The nudity may scare you away (and, indeed, it’s likely motivated by typical otaku fetishism despite its accidental potential for feminist readings), but give it a shot and you’ll quickly be swept up in its escalating series of high-flying battles and jaw-dropping plot twists. Kill la Kill is pure, unapologetic entertainment, and it is our collective Anime of the Year as well as my personal #1 choice.

DISCLAIMER: I work for Crunchyroll as a software developer, but my positive opinion of Kill la Kill (which is streaming on Crunchyroll) expressed here is my own — it does not represent, nor was it prompted in any way by, my employer.


Evan “Vampt Vo” Minto

#3: Ping Pong: The Animation

[See writeup above]


#2: The Tale of Princess Kaguya

Studio Ghibli movies often leave me with a giant smile on my face, but not since Isao Takahata’s tragic WWII masterpiece Grave of the Fireflies have I left a screening of a Ghibli film as overpowered as I did after The Tale of Princess Kaguya (also directed by Takahata). A seemingly simple adaptation of a classic Japanese folk tale, the movie follows the life of a girl born from a bamboo shoot and raised by a humble bamboo cutter. As our heroine goes from country girl to princess, we watch conflicts between her desires and the expectations heaped upon her due to her station as depicted through both charming Ghibli hijinks and surreal dreamscapes. All of this comes to a head in a climax that avoids an obvious chance for tragedy in favor of overwhelming, painfully sincere emotion on the part of its characters. Princess Kaguya reaches for a far more stirring, spiritual experience than most anime (including those in the Ghibli catalog), making the closest comparison Osamu Tezuka’s eight-volume manga epic Buddha. The whole thing is also rendered in a breathtaking, painterly animation style reminiscent of traditional Japanese artwork, something we rarely see in anime. I’ll give it some time before I make any declarations, but Kaguya may end up being one of my favorite Ghibli films of all time.


#1: Kill la Kill

[See writeup above]



#3: Space Dandy (Season 2)

When Space Dandy was announced at Otakon and members of the “press” got further insight via a jam session with Watanabe, I immediatley envisioned a Samurai Jack-type scnerio. Season 1 of Space Dandy was true to its premise — different animation directors handing individual episodes or alien/world designs — but, for me, fell short on the original promise. Every episode seemed to follow the map too closely. There was still enough variation to make for grand entertainment, but nothing that struck me as truly exceptional. Then Season 2 premiered (and continued), and my socks were blown off. The pinnacle had been reached. The episodes varied so widely in execution, focus, and animation styles that I never knew what was coming next, which is everything I ever wanted out of Space Dandy

[Read more in Charles’s full season writeup below]


#2: Space Brothers

[See writeup above]


#1: Ping Pong: The Animation

[See writeup above]


Charles Dunbar

#3: Knights of Sidonia

Giant robots used to be my thing. Gundam, Mekton Zeta, Xenogears? Yup, give me more. And then one day these shows stopped meaning something to me. How many times can I watch the same battle sequences, the “arms race” to build the biggest, baddest metal man in the galaxy, or watch plots unfold like a cartoon soap opera? 

Knights of Sidonia slips nicely between the mecha tropes I’m used to, and the general sense of exploration and “dread” that I want from my SF shows. And yet, I still can’t figure out exactly why I liked this show so much. It hooked me somewhere in the third episode, and refused to let me stop watching until everything was done. It had the obligatory battles, the flashy speed of space combat that felt like a full-mechanical Attack on Titan, but there was a heart there as well, an emotional connection rooted in the exposition and character interactions, that tugged at me. I felt bad when characters died. I pulled for relationships that were cut short too soon. Much like Gundam Seed, there is a sense of real loss in Sidonia — recalling an influence from Battlestar Galactica, we stand together, and fall as one.


#2: Space Dandy

So what’s the good word about this dandy guy? Why should anyone be so interested in what looks and feels like an anime reboot of “Homeboys in Outer Space?” Especially with so much competition this year from so many other, quality series? Is it the space part? Did they forget to mention the space part? So much wonder…

But truthfully, Space Dandy is a fantastic exercise in anime for the sake of anime. No need for deep plots (even if the show tried at some point to insert them late-season), since a heavy reliance of irreverence, and the quirks of the aforementioned Dandy Guy (in SPACE, did we mention?) carry the show from implausible situation to impossible outcome. It conjures an essence of speculation and discovery that the SF genre used to possess, before giant robots and climatic battles became the new normal. The show manages to build on the same energy as Cowboy Bebop, but infuses enough ridiculous situations and culture references to hearken back to an early era of South Park or Family Guy … and ends before its welcome is worn out. Space Dandy is a creature of his own era, and that era is wacky, fun, ridiculous, and satisfying because it is all those things. Dandy indeed. 


#1: Kill la Kill

[See writeup above]


Jared Nelson

#3: Gundam Unicorn

2014 was in many ways a Gundam renaissance with the very successful Build Fighters show and its sequel, as well as Vertical’s release of the outstanding Gundam: The Origin manga. But the standard bearer for Gundam in 2014 was Gundam Unicorn, a showcase of beautiful animation and an exemplar of the hopeful spirit that underpins the Gundam mythos. Unicorn was sort of a dream come true for longtime Universal Century fans because it felt like watching a Gundam show from the ’80s (right down to the awesome throwback character designs) but with modern, high definition animation.

The final episode of Gundam Unicorn has a valedictory tone and it could be an excellent ending to the original Universal Century storyline if ever Tomino retcons the mythos (again). If you’ve never seen Gundam and want to watch something that serves as a representative work for the franchise, you could do far worse than Unicorn. If you’re a long time fan of Gundam, Unicorn is an excellent reminder of how great Gundam can be when done right.


#2: Kill la Kill

[See writeup above]


#1: Space Brothers

[See writeup above]


Katriel Page

#2: Inari Konkon Koi Iroha

Truth be told, this was one of my favorite series in 2014, and slipped under many peoples’ radars: it was simulcasting in the Spring season via Funimation, which was where I found it.

Inari Konkon Koi Iroha (shortened to just Inari Konkon) is a tale about a lonely goddess, the goddess Uka-no-mitama also known as Inari by mortals, who rewards an insecure girl named Fushimi Inari with the ability to transform into any other human. This in effect grants Inari-the-girl with some of Inari-the-goddess’ power, and their lives start intertwining in ways that could not be expected: from Inari-the-goddess wanting to find out more about human lives and hobbies, to Inari-the-girl’s relationships with her friends, crushes, and even other gods.

It’s not on the same tense level as Attack on Titan or Kill la Kill, but helps provide a breather between such tense and action-packed shows. It’s soft and warm like a blanket, only animated, and if you are watching it for the first time, an excellent series to watch during the winter with a cup of hot cocoa by your side.


#1: Kill la Kill

[See writeup above]


And there you have it! The best stuff of 2014 in all three categories we cover. We hope you enjoyed reading our writeups in the past couple days. If you’d like to chime in with your own picks or your feedback for our writers, leave us a comment on any of the three posts. Thanks for reading!

More Staff Picks: Manga Staff Picks 2014Video Game Staff Picks 2014

  • Charles Dunbar's profile

    Charles is graduate of Hunter College, CUNY, where he received a BA in Religion and Anthropology and an MA in Cultural Anthropology. His thesis, Pilgrimage, Pageantry and Fan Communities was published in 2011 and focused on anime convention participation, including spending habits, cosplay, demographics, communal behavior and convention culture. He blogs about his continuing anthropological work at Study of Anime.

  • Evan Minto's profile

    Evan is the Editor-in-chief of Ani-Gamers, a freelance reviewer for Otaku USA Magazine, and a frequent anime convention panelist. You can read his ravings about anime, manga, games, politics, music, and more on Twitter @VamptVo.

  • Ink's profile

    Ink contributes his own pieces and edits those of others pertaining to anime, manga, and games. His reviews and analyses have also appeared in the pages of Otaku USA as well as online over at The Fandom Post and Taiiku Podcast.

  • Jared Nelson's profile

    Jared discovered anime in the early 1990s through stacks of third-hand fandubs and Streamline Pictures tapes. By the tender age of 16, he was humming Macross 7 songs in art class, dreaming of Asuka Langley and hanging Rurouni Kenshin posters on his wall. A few years later he moved to Japan where he worked as an ALT (assistant language teacher) in Ibaraki and Fukuoka Prefectures. While he returned home with a deep appreciation for Japan, its culture, and its public transit system, Jared fell out of anime fandom and only returned in 2010. A self-proclaimed 3rd-level bard, Jared enjoys tabletop gaming and game design, video gaming, giant robots, history, comics, and most recently manga. He is also eternally late to the party.

  • Katriel Page's profile

    Fascinated by practices and beliefs of Shinto, folk religion, and folklore in Japan, Katriel Paige tries to better understand the intersection of history, politics, media, and sacred cultures. They write for as well as their personal site,

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