Japanator Awards 2014: Josh's Top 5


A happy handful of faves for the holiday!

It's that time of the year, everyone. That time that tells us to think back on the year that just passed us by, and see what of it was best worth remembering. Memories made, lessons learned, and most importantly, Japanese cartoons watched. It's the 2014 Japanator Awards!

Well, "awards" may be something of a misnomer this year, as we're going personal this 2014. This year, we're each picking out a handful of our favorite artifacts from Japan's pop-cultural landscape. Given what's usually covered on Japanator, those favorites are likely to be anime television series, but we could be picking movies, live-action shows, or what-have you. Whatever it took to make 2014 a year worth remembering is fair game.

So let's get on with it!

For a lot of reasons, and for a lot of people, 2014 has been a pretty rough year. While lacking in that apocalyptic flavor that can make a true annus horribilis, there was enough bad news going around to make one long for "tomorrow" for the sole reason that it means "today" is over and done with. 

In an environment like that, the best way to keep going is to find something, anything to look forward to, no matter how petty or mundane. As such, with a few exceptions, my favorite shows were reliable, dependable, and importantly, almost constant presences throughout the year by dint of scheduling and planned length. My year in anime enjoyment was a year of having something I could see on the next week's schedule and know that that next 24 or so minutes would be free from any trouble whatsoever.  

Mainly that meant a 2014 of good old-fashioned entertainment. Cool, fun, and, yes, I'll admit, largely unchallenging. 


5. JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders

It almost doesn't feel fair to be including Stardust Crusaders on this list, given that, as a rule, JoJo's anything is almost unassailable. It's been a center of attention for most of its existence, and it'd be a shoo-in for a "Best of" list, no matter what year it is. Plus, it's barely half over, with the best bits yet to come in next year's Egypt arc. If 2015 is as much a year for "comfort" anime as 2014 has been, I might end up putting the other half of this show in the same spot next year. 

At the same time, though, I can't deny that it's been a hell of a ride. David Production's largely gotten over the production humps it faced adapting Phantom Blood and Battle Tendency, and the show's been a looker almost every time it's been on-screen. And the same characters and battles that have made JoJo's Bizarre Adventure as influential as it has been these last decades remain as entertaining as ever. 

In short, it's JoJo's, how could I not?


4. Log Horizon

Log Horizon is the "videogame anime" I've always wanted as a lifelong gamer. Most shows - most non-game stories involving games, really - simply use games as just another fantasy backdrop: a gimmick to set apart the plot. Log Horizon is different, because it couldn't exist in any other way than without the involvement of Elder Tale, the game that, for the story's cast, ends up replacing the world at large.

That tension between "game" and "real" forms the core of Log Horizon's many crises. Just as their expertise with the game's systems gives them advantages, they learn that more and more, they can't just rely on those skills, as new crises test them as people as much as characters. Log Horizon manages that blending of real-world concern with the fantasy framework much better than its peers in this burgeoning subgenre, and the result is, for me at least, the first anime series I've seen to engage me the same way Legend of the Galactic Heroes used to.


3. Gundam Build Fighters Try

I'm frankly amazed by Gundam Build Fighters and Build Fighters Try. 2014 was a pretty good year overall for anime series, but few others in any year seem so effortlessly enjoyable as Sunrise's pet project. The saga of Sei, Reiji, the Try Fighters, and the plastic models they pilot could've easily been an "off-year" project for Bandai and its pet studio, an easy nostalgia-bait cash grab to sell a new line of semi-modular Gundam models. 

Instead they came up with the most fun Gundam show -- heck, the most fun mecha show in years, simply by embracing their own illustrious legacy. The magic of Build Fighters is in its lack of pretense, but the delicious irony is that it simply couldn't exist without the pretense held by every other marquee Gundam show. It's simply "fun" because almost everyone else in its "family" takes themselves so seriously, and I can think of no higher praise for Build Fighters and Gundam in general.

Also, it's a rare production that can treat toys with such beatific, worshipful awe (see the Red Warrior above) and totally get away with it. It's a love letter like no other.


2. Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works

Speaking of reliable, Fate/stay night - and animated adaptations of it and other Type-MOON properties - have become something of an institution in themselves over the last decade and change. 

Unfortunately, that hasn't meant very much, considering their quality, which meant that they had to become "reliable" in a new way, by proving just how good Ufotable are at doing their jobs. If there was a single "showpiece" anime series of 2014 (and beyond, considering that the show's taking a couple seasons off after this season), it was Unlimited Budget Blade Works. 

 Ufotable was also the studio to prove that looks do matter, considering that this series has, thus far, been so gorgeous as to outshine a number of feature films. It's almost (almost!) a shame that such looks have so far been attached to the hyper-chuuni "Nasuverse" rather than more accessible settings and plots. It'll be really interesting to see Ufotable take on new properties once its obligations to Type-MOON are complete. But it'll be a long, enjoyable wait until then. 


1. Shirobako

If Gundam Build Fighters is a love letter, Shirobako feels like a diary entry. But not to Gundam but rather by studio P.A. Works themselves. They're making a show about what they know, and what they and director Tsutomu Mizushima know is how to make Japanese anime. And that's what makes it not just my anime of the year, but possibly one of the most important anime series made to date.

Truth is, when it comes to anime, we rarely get to see "how the sausage is made", so to speak, and the times we do are almost never as entertaining as Shirobako manages to be, while at the same time being the "realest" anime out there. It's educational, in the best way possible.

At the same time, it's far from dry. P.A. Works has been making its name of late on soap opera-style melodramas like Hanasaku Iroha and Tari Tari, but the drama - and magic - of Shirobako is in just how mundane it is. Seeing Aoi and her high school buds simply amble through life, meeting crises and struggling to keep chasing their dreams is something any working adult can empathize with, whether or not they make anime for a living. In its way, Shirobako offers a more realistic "slice of life" than any anime I've ever seen that had the "slice-of-life" label attached to it.


Honorable Mentions:

Space Dandy, When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace, Knights of Sidonia, Chaika the Coffin Princess, Parasyte, Sega Hard Girls, Lord Marksman and Vanadis

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Josh Tolentino
Josh TolentinoManaging Editor   gamer profile

Josh is Japanator's Managing Editor, and contributes to Destructoid as well, as the network's premier apologist for both Harem Anime and Star Trek: Voyager For high school reasons, he's called "u... more + disclosures



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