Every year, I make an attempt to determine what single episode of every anime that I watched that was my absolute favorite. For some years, the decision is easy, such as 2011 (Puella Magi Madoka Magica episode 10) and 2012 (Sengoku Collection episode 18). For other years, it’s a real challenge. It’s demanding when you’re trying to decide between a number of exceptional episodes with no clear choice. For me, 2014 is the latter with three candidates vying for the honor of my favorite episode of the year. And since I remain undecided on this evaluation, still mulling my opinions for each, I’ll present the three episodes here to illustrate what I am going through.
The table tennis matches in Ping Pong have been the greatest thing of any anime this entire season, with this episode being the pinnacle, the unquestioned best. Not only was this episode free of flaws, but the indisputable passion, the mesmerizing kinetics and the exceptional imagery were all conveyed in the captivating animation and extraordinary art work that made this episode unforgettable. It was truly a remarkable experience, and I am confident we have a strong candidate for the best episode of the year, too, with Ping Pong episode ten.
Pretty amazing, right? The episode lived up to its lofty expectations and remains a contender for my favorite episode of the year. The passionate action and overwhelming emotion in the semifinal match created an influential narrative that was supported through some of the finest animation of the year, with the actual game being the zenith.
My second choice is actually from the same person responsible for Ping Pong. Masaaki Yuasa, the director for Ping Pong, was the director, writer, and animation supervisor for the third episode of Space Dandy Season 2. For this episode, I opined:
The third episode of Space Dandy is one of the best episodes of the year according to my criteria. Perhaps the most perfect aspect of this episode was its flawlessly executed story. The plot of episode focused on two independent and simple narratives, with the episode starting a story about feeding Meow and then beginning another about a marooned fish trying to get home. The two autonomous plot lines were linked perfectly and the two were able to build off each other. And simple stories are my favorite in anime since they typically have concise storytelling, appropriate pacing and are free from imperfection and impurities like plot holes and clichés. And it just so happens that both stories in this episode of Space Dandy had outstanding writing, phenomenal structure, fulfilling developments and satisfying conclusions. The episode also featured a remarkable, inspired and artistic setting that heavily influences the characters and their stories. Has there ever been a more unique and thoughtful planet in all of anime? Just recollecting about all the detail and imagination that was put into this setting and how these characteristics factored into the episode is nothing short of astonishing. And let’s not forget to mention the impressive and innovative visual style of this episode’s director, the illustrious and distinguished Masaaki Yuasa (Tatami Galaxy, Kick-Heart, Ping Pong the Animation). How often do you see a sakuga sequence that is done entirely in watercolor paint? It is one-of-a-kind… just like this episode. And all this without even a word on Dandy’s performance. This is truly one of the greatest episodes of anime for the entire year, if not the greatest. Fortunately, when the year comes to an end, I’ll be faced with a delightful dilemma. I’ll be needing to review this episode among several others to decide my favorite of the year. With this, Ping Pong and KILL la KILL to choose from, I’ll be more than happy to revisit each.
And now that I am at the end of the year, I am happy to revisit each, even KILL la KILL which did not make the final 3 that are being reviewed here. As you can see, I was already torn between a few episodes when I was evaluating Space Dandy, but felt the need to consider it among the rest instead of trying to make a decision then and there. Of course, there is one episode left to consider, which aired earlier this season.
A good majority of anime fans wouldn’t necessarily consider a lighthearted, super moe slice-of-life anime about mountaineering to be in the same category as Ping Pong the Animation or Space Dandy, but episode 13 of Yama no Susume Second Season definitely belongs based on its flawless execution. My thoughts on the episode are below:
Up there with Ping Pong the Animation episode 10 and Space Dandy S2 episode 3 is Yama no Susume Second Season episode 13 for best anime episode of the year. Unlike the preceding two anime which need no introduction, Yama no Susume Second Season seems to be relatively anonymous or disregarded as an anime this season. A few quick searches confirm this claim, and they reveal a nominal amount of discussion or dialogue on the series. However, it’s obscurity as an anime has no correlation to its quality or its entertainment (or its education about mountaineering!), and the thirteenth episode was easily one of the most inspiring and satisfying episodes of the year.
What made this episode so outstanding, so remarkable is that it felt complete despite its multifaceted story and its phenomenal characterization. The episode successfully integrated three separate plots – star-gazing, firefly watching and Aoi and Hinata getting lost as children – into one coherent story where each element has a significant impact on the other. The episode was magnificent in how it personified Aoi and Hinata, how they thought about each other, how they acted around each other and showed the strength of their friendship, both in the past and in the present. The visuals was exceptional and truly paramount for a series of this nature, featuring a diversity of aesthetics that range from oil pastels (how often can you say that about an anime?), to a detailed, cartoony style and back to the traditional/moe art style but at a much higher quality and excellence than normal. Everything about this episode was perfect, far exceeding even my wildest imagination for this anime and delivering an episode that is captivating, charming and exceptionally beautiful. I could not recommend this episode enough, even to outsiders of the franchise who know nothing else about the series besides these two short paragraphs. Please watch this episode since it is one of the most incredible and gratifying episodes of the year.
Yes, like the previous two episodes mentioned in this post, Yama no Susume successfully articulated its story, influenced and improved its central characters, featured grandiose and dazzling art, and did everything without any fault or flaw. It truly was a perfect episode… but was it the most perfect episode of 2014?
At the end of this post, you’re probably expecting some decision or celebration, complete with a podium, a trophy, confetti and an after party with cake and champagne. Well, if those were your expectations, I will only disappoint. As I mentioned in the very first line of this post, I only make an attempt at what is my favorite episode of anime of the year; it doesn’t always mean I am able to find that episode. Still, I would like to determine which of these three are my favorite, and I may revisit this topic at a later time, when enough time has passed and I can watch the episodes individually again and weigh their impact on me more precisely. However, that will be an exercise for another day. Instead, the purpose of this post was to highlight the achievements of three separate anime this year, and to bring recognition to the brilliance that lies within any random anime. And of course, it’d make me even happier for you, the audience, to go out and watch these episodes in case you missed any of them. I’d be curious to hear if your thoughts mirror my own on these remarkable and outstanding anime.