Highlights of 2014 – Anime UK News Writers look back
Anime UK News Review of 2014
Sarah: In a year filled with strong series to please all tastes (Tokyo Ghoul; Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works; Free; Eternal Summer, to name but three) I’m going with two light-hearted feelgood shoujo series. The lively upbeat romcom Love Stage!! (based on Eiki-Eiki’s successful ongoing manga) even won over viewers who thought they wouldn’t find anything to enjoy in a Boys’ Love series.
Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun – the daily life of a high school shoujo mangaka, the girl who has a crush on him, and their classmates – didn’t sound overly exciting but turned out to be one of the genuine successes of 2014. Wonderful characters, dry humour and the occasional heart-warming moment, laced with a good dose of craziness (and tanuki) and a great cast.
darkstorm: I’ve got a confession to make: I don’t watch streaming anime. My job involves looking at a computer screen all day so going home and watching anime on my laptop doesn’t appeal to me. This is why I wait for DVD releases, so I can watch from the comfort of my own sofa on a bigger screen. However, I do make an exception for Sailor Moon Crystal, as I know that seeing a UK release of any Sailor Moon anime is very unlikely. So Sailor Moon Crystal wins by default in this category. Yet saying that makes me sad as it shouldn’t be winning ‘by default’ – I want to say this series wins with flying colours, although I have enjoyed it so far I can’t say it’s been a flawless experience. Animation errors, poor writing and plot development choices aren’t to be ignored, but still I look forward to seeing how it develops in 2015.
Rui: I’ve become a real streaming addict since we finally started to get a decent spread of options in the UK and since Sarah’s already nominated the fantastic Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun, I’m going to pick Nobunaga Concerto. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this experimental adaptation of Ayumi Ishii’s award-winning historical manga. The plot isn’t too unusual as anime storylines go; a modern-day schoolboy finds himself right in the middle of the turbulent Sengoku period – and playing one of the lead roles, no less – but the world of Nobunaga Concerto is a fascinating one and far more than the sum of its parts. While viewers who are already familiar with the famous names and events of the Sengoku period will definitely get more out of it than newcomers, if you have an interest in history I strongly recommend giving the anime version a try (you’ll get used to the unusual art style quickly, I promise).
The return of the slow-paced Mushi-shi has also been a highlight of the year’s strong selection of streaming titles. I’ve been devouring each new episode as soon as it’s available; it packs a surprisingly powerful emotional punch.
Ian Wolf: I’m going with the return of Black Butler with Book of Circus. Now I admit that it was not strictly speaking the most faithful adaptation of the original work (Grell Sutcliffe made an appearance in this anime although he does not appear in the manga), but I liked the animation and I always have a bit of a soft spot for anime that are set in Britain.
One surprising hit for me was Love Stage!! It came out at the same time as DRAMAtical Murder and most fujoshi and fudanshi were raving about the latter. However, Love Stage!! proved to be the more entertaining, the more humorous and the more passionate of the two.
It was also good to see more websites streaming such as Netflix, although their policy of not streaming some series before the entire series has been broadcast in Japan is stupid (see Knights of Sidonia and The Seven Deadly Sins). To me it seems that all they are doing is encouraging people to watch these anime in more dubious ways.
Genkina hito: When it comes to streaming, Space Dandy is my pick of the year, baby. 2014 was the year when Cowboy Bebop director Shinichiro Watanabe made a comeback with two TV anime, both based on an original idea. Zankyou no Terror was the serious show about terrorism in Tokyo that fell into silliness and tone/plot inconsistencies, while the more light-hearted Space Dandy soared to comedic heights as it demonstrated artistic daring, brilliant writing, as well as adventurous visual direction and imagination.
Space Dandy focussed on a team of bumbling alien hunters zooming around space on random adventures in a set-up reminiscent of Red Dwarf but far wilder and unpredictable because each episode had a different combination of directors, writers, musical artists, and character designers. The result of the multitude of talent was that each episode had a different story and even a different visual style at times and so familiar stories, concepts, and tropes were turned on their heads. Zombie invasions would be taken to absurd levels and space races would suddenly have a dash of yaoi action, Dandy and the gang could go from hunting shapeshifting aliens to making a rock band with the head of an intergalactic empire. Despite being full of pop-culture references, nearly every episode was experimental at times and overall the show felt like a breath of fresh air. Anchored by a core set of hilariously silly yet loveable characters with a brilliant set of voice actors (especially the English-language ones), Space Dandy is the anime for me, baby!
Reevothemusefan: One of the best pieces of news of the year when it came to streaming anime was when Crunchyroll announced that they will be showing both Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure seasons and while I was considering putting Stardust Crusaders to win this category, since it’s continuing next year, I decided to pick another. My honorable mentions included Space Dandy, Hoozuki no Reitetsu and Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun.
However my winner is a show that started back in 2012 and ended this year: Space Brothers; it’s been 99 episodes full of great moments and one of the few shows that got me emotional at times, full of charm and wonder that is hard to find in anime sometimes, as well as a fantastic soundtrack. Hopefully we will see it return in the near future!
Sarah: Thanks to Anime Limited, perhaps 2014 could be subtitled the year of the welcome re-issue? Welcome back to Cowboy Bebop, Outlaw Star, Durarara!! and Gurren Lagann in special new editions (Blu-ray as well as DVD). However, issues with the quality of sound and subtitles have caused fans some problems and disappointments (these sets are not cheap, although they contain lots of extra goodies). On the whole, though, I’d rather have these sets than not and I’m looking forward to Anime Limited’s next offerings, especially the classic Wings of Honneamise (26.1.15).
From MVM came the delightful Kamisama Kiss, a light and frothy mélange of Japanese folklore, youkai and shoujo romance; I’m already looking forward to Season 2 streaming on Crunchyroll in the New Year.
The Devil is a Part-Timer from Manga Entertainment was also an unexpected pleasure; Satan and his faithful general are expelled from their own universe, and, pursued by the righteous Hero Emilia, all three end up in present-day Tokyo where (deprived of their magical powers) they have to earn their keep and survive as ordinary humans. Check out MgRonalds’s latest employee Maou (he’s very motivated to succeed.)
We’re still waiting, however, for Evangelion 3.33 – You Can (Not) Redo…
darkstorm: I’d like to add to Sarah’s subtitle and say ‘year of the anime in cinemas’ as well; with Hayao Miyazaki’s final film ‘The Wind Rises‘, the surprise limited releases of the live action Black Butler and Rurouni Kenshion: Kyoto Inferno, and not forgetting BFI’s Studio Ghibli season and Anime Film Season. I’ve never seen so many anime in the cinema in one year!
In regards to DVD releases, I was a little disappointment with the releases earlier in the year with Dusk Maiden of Amnesia and From the New World being interesting in concept but terribly executed. However the latter half of the year saw some wonderful and quality anime finally coming to the UK from Usagi Drop to Kill la Kill. My personal favourite of the year would have to be Fate/Zero; I picked up the box set for Fate/Stay Night many years ago at MCM Expo in London and it had been sitting on my shelf unwatched until late last year when I finally decided to blast through it. I found myself quite underwhelmed by the end of it, and the Unlimited Blade Works movie didn’t help either. I wasn’t expecting much from its prequel but Fate/Zero surprised me in the best way. The series stayed with me long after I finished watching, and I’m a lot more experience for the future of the series as a result, it even got me interesting in checking out the original visual novel (if it gets a kickstarter campaign as Clannad has, then I’ll be all for it).
Rui: As a regular importer who has gradually fallen out of love with the UK anime market over the years, I was delighted when Anime Limited sprung onto the scene with the noble goal of satisfying both hardcore collectors and the mainstream UK market with a mix of digital and physical releases. They’ve been going from strength to strength ever since, even persuading me to buy a UK-compatible Blu-ray player so that I could pick up gorgeous local releases of titles such as Gurren Lagann and Patema Inverted. Given how much discussion every Anime Limited release seems to generate on the forums, it doesn’t seem as though I’m alone in appreciating the way they treat the titles they acquire – or the personal way that they take care of their customers, either.
The team at veteran distributor MVM Entertainment deserve a mention too, listening to the fan community and testing the market for special editions and Blu-ray releases whenever possible. They’ve been releasing particularly high quality titles this year, from the Monogatari series to The Garden of Sinners, and their strong support for anime adaptations of shoujo manga and otome games makes MVM unique in this market – I never thought I’d see the day when Hakuoki would receive a UK release. More, please.
It’s not all been smooth sailing, however, and the distributor most sorely in need of improvement right now is Manga Entertainment. They’ve been giving their most ardent supporters a difficult time this year by stripping the extras from Blu-ray releases in order to add them to separate DVDs exclusive to ‘special edition’ sets, and cancelling several Blu-ray releases without any warning (or explanation). Most controversially, they cancelled the standalone Blu-ray release of the Naruto: Blood Prison film and made the Blu-ray version exclusive to a box-set, forcing anyone who was collecting the series on that format to buy the first four films again in order to own it. With the news that three of the most well-known Manga employees have now left the company, the self-proclaimed ‘best distributor’ in the UK anime industry is in very poor shape right now. Will things improve in 2015, or are these problems a sign of worse to come?
Ian Wolf: The best release this year for me was the “Ultimate Edition” of Gurren Lagann. I could go on about how much I adored it, but I can’t help but feel that adding a link to a six-page long article I wrote on the subject is much easier. Anime Limited have done a great job in working with their customers. It is a shame that there have been one or two errrors on some releases, but it is better to have these releases than not at all. It also good to see them trying out new ideas such as crowdfunding the release of Patema Inverted.
Concerning anime films there was also The Wind Rises: Hayao Miyazaki’s final outing. Well, I say “final outing”. Many anime fans will know that Miyazaki has a habit of retiring and then coming out of retirement. It is an interesting mix of biopic and fantasy, and it is strange to feel sympathy for the main lead, given that the viewer knows that he designed a machine that was used for war. It provokes a lot of conflicting thoughts.
I would also echo Rui’s comments on Manga Entertainment. I was annoyed by the release of Attack on Titan because of the subtitling (that was mainly a problem with Funimation to be honest), but the subtitles on Crunchyroll are much better.
Genkina hito: I have to say that 2014 has been fantastic in terms of anime on the big screen, with titles like Mai Mai Miracle, Colorful, The Wind Rises and more getting screened, but my favourite cinema experience and subsequent DVD/Blu-ray release has to be Patema Inverted thanks to Anime Limited. In a year when Hayao Miyazaki’s supposed swan-song, The Wind Rises, finally got a UK release, Patema Inverted provides assurances that there are other talented directors who have the vision and skill to bring to life stories that surprise and delight viewers. Directed by Yasuhiro Yoshiura, the creator of the beautiful Time of Eve, a near-future story about people and androids, Patema Inverted is an adventure where boy meets girl, except the two characters have totally different gravitational pulls because they come from two different worlds. It plays not only with perspective, constantly flipping the camera upside down and back, it plays with weight and speed as the two leads must work together to prevent falling into the sky or deep underground. It is thrilling and exciting.
Seeing it on a cinema screen was awesome and the home release is perfect. The Ultimate Edition which I backed on Kickstarter came quickly and I was thrilled with the quality of the case. The content is top quality with the artbook, soundtrack and other goodies included. A lot of care and attention has gone into this and it shows with the different extras on disc.
A distributor I want to highlight is MVM who are releasing more interesting titles, most specifically for me, more of the Monogatari franchise at the tail end of this year!
Reevothemusefan: Most of my anime purchases this year were Anime Limited products, since their Ultimate versions of Gurren Lagann and Patema Inverted looked really good and they didn’t disappoint. It was also good to see Kill La Kill Part 1 and Space Dandy Season 1 get some great box art, plus it’s nice to see MangaUK and MVM get titles like Attack On Titan and the Monogatari series onto the market.
My winner though is a release that I saw for the first time at Scotland Loves Anime and that was Time Of Eve: The Movie. I really enjoyed this movie and the packaging for the box-set was excellent as it included the soundtrack and a book. While I got the set from Kickstarter, you should be able to get this show by the end of the year.
Sarah: Black Rose Alice (Viz Media)– a josei title from the award-winning Setona Mizushiro – brings a different and thought-provoking take on the vampire mythos. If you don’t like spiders (or other creepy-crawlies) then avoid at all cases! What makes this series stand out, however, is the excellent characterization and the deeply twisted relationship that develops between the ‘immortal’ Dimitri and his Alice.
What Did You Eat Today? (Vertical) is the delightful (and ongoing) slice-of-life account of a middle-aged gay couple and the food they prepare and enjoy together from award-winning Fumi Yoshinaga (something of a foodie herself!) Beautifully drawn and observed, and containing recipes in every chapter for those who love to cook.
His Favorite #6 & #7 (SuBLime) Strictly speaking, this ongoing Boys’ Love high school comedy has been running for a while but it just gets better and better. Suzuki Tanaka has a wicked sense of humour and her portrayal of the secret relationship between the high school’s handsome ‘prince’ (onetime social reject and sadist Sato) and awkward Yoshida (short, wiry and not big on the looks front but a good-hearted guy) manages to be both funny and strangely touching. But mostly laugh-out-loud as the hordes of raging girls pursue Sato and devise ever more fiendish ways to win his affections (never going to happen, girls).
darkstorm: I struggled to get into any new manga this year. As I knew Vampire Knight was coming to an end I wanted to find a new series to get invested in. I tried different volumes but I could never find the drive to pick up the following volume after reading the first, so it wasn’t until late in the year that I found Monster (Naoki Urasawa). The story has fascinated me for years even though the anime has never reached us. Thankfully the new Perfect Editions (Viz) of the manga are just starting to come out and I’m so happy to finally experience the acclaimed series. Only got one volume so far, but looking forward to seeing how it develops in the New Year.
Rui: For me, it feels as though there have been more endings than beginnings when it comes to manga being released in English this past year. Most sorely missed will be the wonderful Otomen, a lighthearted romantic comedy with a very strong message about how important it is to be true to yourself (no matter how odd you are). My favourite new title is actually one of Crunchyroll’s ‘simulpub’ releases: Memoirs of Amorous Gentlemen (Bikachou Shinshi Kaikoroku) from the inimitable Moyoco Anno. This delightfully sleazy story offers a glimpse behind the scenes of a Parisian brothel; a setting perfect for Anno’s study of relationships, humanity and awkward sexuality. I imagine that this will appeal to anyone who enjoyed Sakuran, though it might be better to wait until it finishes before diving in – the chapters come out unbearably slowly!
Ian Wolf: There were two manga that I reviewed for MyM that were the first to get a 10 out of 10 rating, both from Viz Media. One was the Monster: Perfect Edition, a brilliant thriller combined with great art and shocking twists and turns. The other was All You Need is Kill, drawn by Death Note’s Takeshi Obata. This was a brilliant adaptation of Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novel, which also had an advantage over the Hollywood adaptation Edge of Tomorrow, in that it has no Tom Cruise in it.
Genkina hito: In terms of manga, I have continued series that I started back in December of last year. The one that I am most heavily invested in is I Am a Hero, a horror manga by Kengo Hanazawa which, if one were to be glib, could be called the Japanese The Walking Dead. Only not everyone has guns. And the zombies resemble the infected from 28 Days Later. The central protagonist is Hideo, a manga-ka with a gun license and a slight grip on his sanity after years of artistic failure. He finds himself plunged into a world of terror as a zombie apocalypse strikes the world and goes on the run with different survivors. It is bleak and, up until a battle at the onsen, it is realistic and scary.
Another highlight of the year is Viz bringing Monster to UK shores. A few years ago I became a fan of the anime and picked up odd volumes of the manga, so it is great to get these new Perfect Editions to get the full story.
Reevothemusefan: Overall my highlight will have to be the western release of Inio Asano’s Nijigahara Holograph; I’m a big fan of his and this one-shot manga didn’t disappoint. Fantastically detailed artwork added with a twisted horror story had me gripped throughout and I continue to hope this is a sign that his other manga stories will come to the west in the future.
Also an honorable mention to Flowers Of Evil; while I wasn’t as engaged when it came to the last couple of volumes, I was left satisfied with the ending.
Things to Come… 2015
darkstorm: I’m hoping for the DVD/Blu-ray releases of ufotable’s Fate/Stay Night series and the up-coming Heaven’s Feel movie. I’ve heard so many good things about the former, and as mentioned previously Fate/Zero has got me much more invested and excited for the franchise. I also hope to finally have a copy of Evangelion 3.0, no more delays please Manga UK!
Manga wise I plan to keep collecting Monster, as well as step back into the works of CLAMP with the Dark Horse release of Drug & Drop finally coming into the UK early next year.
Rui: I’d like to see the UK-friendly streaming companies continuing to expand their offerings until we get access to the same breadth of anime that fans in the US enjoy. Viewster has been a great addition to the selection of free and accessible legal streaming services, and I’m hopeful that the UK distributors will continue to try out mainstream platforms such as Netflix and Vimeo to steadily broaden the audience over here. It would be good to see MVM getting into the streaming trend as well in order to help promote their strong library of classic titles.
As for specific releases, I can’t wait to catch up on the new seasons of Kuroko No Basket, Kamisama Kiss (Kamisama Hajimemashita) and Aldnoah.Zero, and I’m looking forward to seeing what treats Anime Limited have planned for the home video versions of Tokyo Ghoul and Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo. And despite already owning the Japanese edition of Evangelion 3.33, I second darkstorm in hoping that 2015 will be the year that it finally makes it way to the UK. I think everyone’s waited long enough by now.
Sarah: It may seem strange to be looking forward to the conclusion of a manga series in translation, but this is one that could so easily have languished forever stuck at Volume 3 when Go! Comi sadly folded back in 2009. Thanks to Viz Media, the wonderfully rich fantasy adventure 07-Ghost by Yumi Amemiya and Yukino Ichihara will (all being well) reach its final volume #17 in the summer of 2015.
And, at last, SuBLime bring us an official English translation of Sekai Ichi Hatsukoi by Shungiku Nakamura (Junjo Romantica. Even if you’re not a fan of BL, Nakamura-sensei’s amusing depiction of the ups and downs of getting the monthly edition of a shoujo magazine published is well worth reading (this is the Asuka French cover).
Requiem for the Rose King looks intriguing; it’s a rather ‘different’ take on the story of Richard III and the Wars of the Roses from Aya Kanno (Otomen) – I can’t wait!
Ian Wolf:Regarding DVD and Blu-ray releases, one I’m interested in is Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise, the first ever film made by Gainax back in 1987; it’s currently scheduled for 26th January. Anime being streamed to keep an eye on include new series of Durarara!! and Dog Days – the latter being one of the few anime I would like to hear dubbed into English just to see one of those annoyingly cheery American anime voice actors trying to do an accurate Japanese-Cornish accent. Manga titles include new omnibus editions of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure from Viz Media.
However, going back to something mentioned by several people here, there is one big franchise to keep an eye out for in 2015, for this is the year of Neon Genesis Evangelion; we should be expecting Evangelion 3.33: You Can (Not) Redo on DVD and Blu-Ray (after a long series of delays), the final volume of the manga adaptation, and hopefully the fourth and final film in the Rebuild tetralogy should at least be out in Japanese cinemas.
Genkina hito: I’m going to echo others in hoping for more legal ways for UK audiences to view anime and read manga. In terms of titles I am looking forward to watching, Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo, Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise, Space Dandy Season 2 from Anime Limited and The Case of Hana and Alice when it gets released in Japan. I’m also looking forward to more JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and Tokyo Ghoul!
Reevothemusefan: Streaming shows continue to be strong going into next season with Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders Part 2, Durarara!! S2 and Binan Koukou Chikyuu Bouei-bu Love! (hey, this is the guy who directed Gintama and Ixion Saga DT, of course I’m going to watch it). Also I wonder if we will see another show that will rival the popularity of Attack On Titan next year; I look forward to finding that out.
I look forward to getting the Blu-ray releases of all Full Metal Panic seasons and the DVD of Ben-to, although I am severely disappointed with the cancelled Blu-ray release.
I also hope to buy more Light Novels, starting with the upcoming Log Horizon release from Yen Press.
So much to see, so much to read… what have been your favourite anime and manga this year? Has 2014 been a vintage year or just average? What are you looking forward to in 2015? Do let us know your thoughts!