I had to stretch to get a top 10 this year. I’m ready to admit that. Last year, it was easy – in fact, it was too easy, and I ended up expanding my list to twelve shows basically by necessity. But this year didn’t have quite the top shelf of 2013, and so concessions had to be made. There are certainly a couple notable absences here, with I’m guessing the biggest ones being Kill la Kill, Space Dandy, and maybe Nozaki-kun. The reason for those absences is simple – I didn’t like any of those shows very much. If you’re looking for a general “all the shows that enjoyed positive appraisal among the kinds of people who make a point of appraising shows,” I’m guessing all three of those would be included, but this is my list, and I’m gonna talk about what I wanna. (Incidentally, if you are looking for a list like that, my fellow critics at ANN all contributed their own top five lists to this recent retrospective – and that’s all shows that started in 2014, so even my list over there is pretty different). My list may be a little shorter this year, but it’s still got some real gems, and considering three of the year’s best shows aren’t included simply because they aren’t finished (Shirobako, KimiUso, and Parasyte), I’d say we made off okay. Let’s run it down!
I’m not really much of a crier. This used to be pretty much a hard rule – basically nothing would move me to cry, regardless of how personal or how tragic. This has started to change over the last few years, starting with Katawa Shoujo and my reintroduction back into anime. And I’m actually grateful for this – my favorite media is the stuff that makes me cry, and I wish I did it more often. It happens rarely enough that I can still easily say any show that makes me cry is among my favorite shows.
Well, Hunter x Hunter made me cry. God damn did it ever.
Humanity is an imperfect species. Actually, that’s putting it very generously – humanity is a deeply flawed species. We’re selfish and self-destructive, ignorant to the point of blindness, arrogant to the point of madness. It’s almost a wonder we’ve come so far, or at least that we haven’t destroyed ourselves along the way. For all our triumphs, every advantage of our intelligence and self-awareness is also reflected countless times in insane invention, in total megalomania. We are our own worst enemy.
In light of this, it seems somewhat reasonable to consider the possibility of a do-over. Perhaps another species could do better than us – perhaps a species more interested in its own collective survival, and more able to coherently absorb the lessons of its forebearers. Perhaps a species somewhat more animal, more willing to be part of a grand organism than a wild, unpredictable individual. Perhaps such a species deserves that chance. Or perhaps such a species doesn’t even need to be offered a chance – if we were ever put against a creation that combined humanity’s intelligence and strength with an animalistic unity of purpose, would we even stand a chance?
Chimera Ant is a story about that question – or at least, about that question and a number of others. It catalogs the rise of the (surprise) Chimera Ants, a species that continuously evolves, absorbing the quirks and powers of any species it consumes. The queen of the Ants wishes to build a Perfect Being – the ultimate animal, destined to rule over all others. In order to do that, she constructs her child out of the best pieces available – and in the first of Chimera Ant’s many strange reflections, the construction of a Perfect Being end up requiring a great deal of flawed, self-involved, self-destructive human beings. As her army of Ants grows, their human DNA becomes more and more prominent, and the “imperfections” of human nature become more and more apparent in their behavior. “Fortunately,” this intermingling of human and ant instincts isn’t restricted solely to one side – as Chimera Ant unfolds, even the humans begin to demonstrate that ant nature isn’t perhaps quite so inhuman as it seems. And by the end…
Well, I’ll get to that. For now, let’s start by setting the stage.
Apparently this is a fantastic episode of Hunter x Hunter, and someone asked if I could do a formal writeup for it, so here I am. The show certainly deserves it – it’s the best thing I’m currently watching, both the writing and technical execution are incredibly impressive, and this recent span of episodes in particular has basically been a continuous feast of gorgeously shot, incredibly tense highlights. And we’ve arrived at the key moment right here, too. Should I talk a little about that? I guess I should talk a little about that.
And so the summer ends. I really couldn’t be more burnt out on talking about anime, considering I just finished three 8+ page essays on TWGOK, Uchouten Kazoku, and Gatchaman Crowds, but I’ll at least wave my hand in the direction of final impressions.
No Monogatari this week, so I only had two thirds of the great shows I normally do. That turned out to be fine, though, because the second-strings were in extremely good form.
Another fantastic week in anime, but when the current season has a bewildering buffet on the scale of three good shows, that tends to happen. All three of my favorites were in top form this week, so let’s run down the list.
Management: Late by a week, and this isn’t a show I’m actually covering, but it’s a very good show and this kind of covers a good number of the reasons why.
This show is so damn good. Everything is just so well-written and well-paced and well-directed and blah. It’s close to the only thing that I can watch as pure entertainment, because while everything that’s happening is right there on the surface, it’s also creative and professional and expertly produced. The characters, who all feed off their great visual design to be understandable in a few broad strokes of characterization. The humor, which builds off without defining the characters. The many-strained plotting, at its best in Yorkshin and again now in Chimera Ant, which seems more reminiscent of a tightly written thriller/drama than a shounen. The very understandable yet still creative system of battle, the ever-shifting definition of battle, the… alright, I’ll stop. This show is awesome, and I haven’t talked about it before, so I just wanted to set something down.
This episode actually features the most significant step in Gon’s character development we’ve seen yet, which is nice. He’s been repeatedly warned about his pride and headstrong nature becoming a threat to both himself and the people around here – but now, with Kite’s loss fresh in his mind, he’s finally acting on that, and restraining himself. This episode was also damn funny, with street punk’s (yeah, I don’t remember character names pretty much ever) soft side getting me every time, and crazy hair’s knife-shaking kind of lampshading how silly her overall presence has been. I also like how Bisky has learned to rely on how goddamn charming Gon and Killua are in crafting her training schedules – it wouldn’t have worked on a less charitable Hunter, but it’s a nice beat of progression in their relationship.
The Ant side displayed some of the efficient plotting this series excels in, revealing the Hunter organization’s battle strategy and powers in a couple efficient, pretty intimidating beats. The cracks in the assumed unity of the Ants as they embrace their human-imbued independent streaks are doing more and more damage to their organization, with the original ringleaders now scared to even ask Neferpitou for help. Neferpitou is obviously just the best – her character is the clear breakout of this arc, with her whimsical love of violence and boundless curiosity now leading her to become some kind of mad scientist. We also got a breakdown of the ants’ overall organization, as well as both their response and the Hunter organization’s counter-strategy. I really love how a show with powers and setups as wild as this one can always ground its conflicts in reasonable stakes – managing exposition to keep everything grounded while avoiding losing tension is a difficult trick, and this show pulls it off with ease. And then it finishes off with by adding a new variable and next-episode cliffhanger that naturally ratchets the tension of Gon and Killua’s training. Again, if shounen writing and direction were always this good, I’d be in real deep trouble.