Shadow’s Six: 2014 Summer/Fall’s Best Anime

Alright everyone, it’s time. We’ve talked about the best anime of the first half of 2014, and we’ve discussed the best games and the biggest disappointments of last year but there’s still one gaping hole in what has been covered. And that, my friends, is where this list comes in… today we talk about the best 6 anime of the Summer and Fall seasons of 2014. Summer had some of the best anime I’ve ever watched, with new entries into virtually every genre that seemed promising, while fall featured several shows that completely defied my expectations. Both seasons featured tears, smiles, action, and magic – and there was some of the most amazing music I’ve ever heard – but which shows reign supreme?

6) Aldnoah.Zero

To start off the list… the only logical choice is Aldnoah.Zero. The first thing that stands out about Aldnoah was how quickly it thrust you directly into the action. It didn’t have several episodes of buildup or development. Sure, you weren’t prepared for what happened, but that made it all the more impactful. But a good start is not enough to make you one of my top six anime, and it was Aldnoah’s intelligence that earned it its spot here. Aldnoah was unwilling to make things easy on the protagonists, it forced them to actually strategically and logically deduce the strengths and weakness of what they’re fighting and come up with a way to beat it. What’s even more impressive… it all made sense. When they found a solution to the problem, it was completely understandable – it was a realistic weakness for the type of mechs they were fighting.

The show was far from perfect, with a few pretty standout flaws. Its core cast was almost entirely flat, except for our female protagonist Asseylum who was actually a great character overall. It’s a pity those supporting her weren’t as solid, but this is a mech anime and characters are not really what people tend to look for here so that is not as big of a flaw as it might’ve been in a different genre. The other thing to be aware of is that the ending is quite awkward. It had numerous senseless moments, and featured a massive cliffhanger that didn’t really feel right for the show. Fortunately, season 2 has started so the cliffhanger won’t matter too much at this point!

Princess Asseylum

5) Fruit de la Grisaia

La Fruit de la Grisaia was a visual novel converted into an anime that aired during the fall season. It’s a strange show to judge, with an opening that really doesn’t paint an accurate picture of what the show is going to be. However, at the end of episode one… it gives you some really interesting hints of what is to come. Moving forward, the show’s bulk is focused on a series of small set pieces – 2-3 episodes each – developing each of the show’s female leads.

I say female leads because yes, it’s a harem show, like so many of this fall’s shows, but less focus is put on this than on the personalities and development of these fantastic female characters. Each of the students at this school – all six of them – have their own troubled pasts and their own distinct personal demons to overcome. While their personal circumstances are rather difficult to relate to, all being rather out-there, the stories are told so well that you really understand the struggles these characters go through.

Grisaia Cast

4) Sword Art Online 2

It should be no surprise to anyone that I love Sword Art Online. Nearly everything about the show is tailored to my personal tastes… from the environments to the gaming references to the characters and even the general story arcs are kind of tailor-made to what I want to see. I even find myself relating pretty strongly with Kirito, outside of the fact that he has women fawning over him. But this isn’t about the entire series as a whole… and that’s why this show isn’t placing higher.

Sword Art Online’s second season was broken down into two arcs and one transitory subarc. The second arc, Mother’s Rosario, was amazing. It rivalled the initial arc of the show in quality, was the first time that the creators of SAO have really managed to nail down the concept of ‘pacing’, featured some fascinating new characters, delved into some really unique concepts – like medical applications of virtual reality technology – that I found incredibly interesting, and featured an ending scene that I found to be nearly perfect.

But… SAO2 is not just the Mother’s Rosario arc. It also included the Phantom Bullet arc and the short subarc Calibur… and both of these failed to live up to the quality of the series as a whole. Calibur lacked most of the strongest elements of the show, just offering a more action driven short story without a lot of the drama content. It’s a fun watch, but nothing spectacular. The Phantom Bullet arc, however, showed a lot of potential. It had a fairly good mystery vibe, some fantastic scenery, and an entirely new gameworld which really altered the dynamic around which the show revolves. But, sadly, due to some really bad pacing issues, the story feels far too pensive and, to be honest, just far too slow.

So if we were talking about Mother’s Rosario alone this would have been a contender for the top two spots with ease. It is not, however, and the mediocre showing of the other two arcs bring it down a little.

SAO 2 Opening

3) Trinity Seven

I’m as surprised as you are to see this so high. I mean, it’s a shameless, crude, hyper-sexualized harem anime… not exactly ‘best of the season’ material, right? Well, you’d think so… but when you have a show that is this self aware, it can surprise. And Trinity Seven managed to surprise me.

Its understanding of the genre it belongs to and its willingness to accept the stereotypes that go along with that and play off of those creates some fantastic humour. It’s not every day episode 1 of a show has the main character being told to meet seven women and ‘make them his pawns’. This is exactly what a harem anime should be… none of these ignorant protagonists who don’t recognize what is happening, deny things or simply don’t realize how popular they are, no. Arata is the perfect protagonist, dirty and willful. But without the right women, a harem just can’t exist… and the female characters are so perfectly split between bashful and wanton. It’s exactly what you want to see.

But, as we’ve seen in other shows, sometimes harem anime fail when they try to do anything else… but Trinity Seven also creates a relatively good fantasy story, complete with an interesting magic system tied to the seven deadly sins – hence the name Trinity Seven. The story probably would’ve stood on its own with only a few alterations if they’d wanted to take it and make it just a fantasy anime, removing the harem aspect entirely… and that says a lot.

Levi the Ninja

2) Sabagebu

And here we reach the best of the best. The top two of summer/fall… show that were so good I could hardly bear the fact that they had to go and end on me. The first of these two: Sabagebu, the Survival Game Club.

Sabagebu is about a group of girls who have formed an airsoft club at their school. They have become so passionate about their chosen hobby, that in their minds… it’s real. The show’s ‘fight’ scenes are dances of elaborate gunplay resulting in the characters’ inevitable ‘deaths’ from gushing, bloody wounds. Since nobody actually dies, it’s all good. Being honest, the gunplay in this show – despite being ‘fake’ – is better than many genuine sci-fi and action shows. It’s entertaining, exciting and, with the classy narrator always reminding you that this isn’t real, hilarious. The show’s best asset is its protagonist though… Momoka is a perfect character for this type of show: selfish, violent, easily angered, and deceitful.

Thriving in much the same way as Trinity Seven, Sabagebu created probably the best comedy show I’ve ever seen in my life. Each episode was absolutely packed with hilarious moments created by the show’s unwillingness to conform to ‘normalcy’. Each episode got weirder and more absurd than the last, and it created a gradual progression towards the ultimate absurdity. What is even more shocking is that the ending delivered on that promise. While I think ending this show was the right decision, since the finale really was the perfect way to cap it off and anything beyond that probably would’ve started to lose the appeal, I am still upset that I no longer have my morning dose of Sabagebu to help me prepare for work every day. But… when the worst thing you can say about a show is that ‘it ended’… you’re looking at something pretty special there.

Sabagebu Cast

1) HaNaYaMaTa

And our number 1. It is probably no surprise to any of you reading that this is #1… I was absolutely and utterly in love with this show when it was airing. I watched every episode as soon as I could after it came out, I looked forward to it every week… and I talked about it constantly. It was actually hard to write my HaNaYaMaTa review because it was just that good… I loved the show to the point where it was hard to talk about it without devolving into a fangirl. Yes, a fangirl, because fanboys simply aren’t fan enough.Hana

HaNaYaMaTa was a beautiful story about a girl overcoming shyness and a crippling lack of self-confidence to help start a club devoted to the costumed dance known as Yosakoi. And everything about this show was simply amazing. The characters were charming, relatable, and the development they all went through was second to none… the character who became a major character with only a few episodes of the series left got more of a chance to develop than many series’ main character.

The presentation was stunning, the music was among the best I’ve ever heard – I liked the opening enough that I’ve even actually learned the lyrics enough to sing along despite not speaking a word of Japanese – the imagery was indescribably gorgeous… the production values of this show are, quite honestly, the best I’ve ever seen. They make such a good use of visual, written, and musical design that it baffles me that this show does not get more praise.

It is simply hard to say enough good about this show. You must go watch this, trust me… this isn’t just an anime about cutesy girls being cute like it might seem at first glance… it is so much more than that. So much more.

HaNaYaMaTa Cast

Was this list what you were expecting? Would any of you have picked a different anime for that number 1 spot? Lemme know!