My Favorite Anime of 2014

This is rather late to be talking about my favorite anime of the past year.   But, ’tis better to be late than never.  The more careful of my readers already know which 2014 anime excelled all others in action, comedy, and likable characters: Sabagebu!  Sabagebu! stands as a five star comedy in a year which featured many good but few great shows.  The only other great show which comes to my mind is Shingeki no Bahamut. vlcsnap-2015-01-31-21h14m06s179 The show fits in the genres of parody and black comedy.  The parody targets 80’s action movies.  (The Predator and Mad Max episodes are practically unforgettable.)  But, it also poked fun at samurai dramas, as we see in the hunting episode.  Amusingly, all the killing and death occurs in the protagonists imaginations–even though certain scenes make one wonder.  (Just what happened to all those guys who went down in the helicopter sent to rescue Urara from the ladies’ room?  Was there even a helicopter to begin with?  Hard to tell sometimes.)  The members of the series’ Survival club are all screwballs but inherently likable.  Momoka, the blissfully sadistic psychopath of the group, stands out as the most fun to watch and original character of summer 2014.

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Medieval Otaku’s First (and Possibly Last) Quick Takes

Nami of the Budding Philosopher’s Quick Takes have given me the inspiration for this kind of post.  As I understand it, the object is to quickly apprise one’s readers of the things uppermost on the blogger’s mind, which works for me.  You see, I won’t be writing another post until February because of a certain project I have underway.  But, I hope that these tidbits will tide you over until I am able to write a more polished article.  I’m even departing from my usual modus operandi by typing this out without relying on a prior handwritten draft.  At any rate, here are my seven quick takes for the week.

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Only five days separate me from the deadline for revisions in Athanatos Christian Ministries’ Novel Contest!  The other finalists promise to give me some stiff competition in my quest to take first prize, but I shall give it my all.  Since the Christmas season began, I’ve procrastinated because work has gotten busier, but I finally feel that I have the urgency necessary to dedicate enough time to the novel.  Pray for me and wish me luck!

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The Absence of the Church of Heaven: Junketsu no Maria and Catholicism

I was initially suspicious of this series even though I liked their choice of the setting. Iblessall proves my suspicion that there might be anti-Church messages in it correct.

Mage in a Barrel

So, the headline here is that I’m dropping Junketsu no Maria and that I’m pretty bummed about doing so. I like, even adore, a lot of the peripheral elements of the show—Maria herself, her little posse of misfits, the character designs—but the show’s handling of Catholicism and the Catholic Church, which was more or less the focus of this episode, has left me both uncomfortable and a bit upset after watching the second episode. And, as much as I want to, I just can’t ignore those warning bells in my head.

Junketsu no Maria

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“Joe Yabuki isn’t Some Sandbag” : The Greatest Boxing Epic Ever

After watching twenty-nine episodes of Ashita no Joe, the time seems ripe to tell my dear readers about why I have become addicted to it.  In the past couple of weeks, I have only twice turned my attention to other anime: Rolling Girls and Angel Cop.  But, I might be forgiven for my narrow viewing by the fact that Ashita no Joe renders everything else mediocre in comparison–especially more recent anime.  Don’t get me wrong.   Rolling Girls is entertaining, Aldnoah.Zero 2 will likely be quite good, and Yuri Kuma Arashi just might find itself on my watch list.  But, none of these has a prayer of meeting the quality of Ashita no Joe.

Joe vs. Rikiishi

So, what makes Ashita no Joe so great?  It’s strongest suit is the characters.  Our hero might be the worst jerk you’ve ever seen; but, Joe Yabuki feels surprisingly real, and certain moments of his characters development blow one’s mind.  The Aoyama Arc’s conclusion almost made me fall out of my chair!  Sometimes you root for Joe, at other times you pity him, and much of the time you want to see him knocked flat.  With Joe’s proclivity for fighting everyone and everything, one does see that time and time again.  Yet, Joe always gets back up.

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Feast of St. Anthony the Abbot

Today is the feast day of one of my favorite saints: St. Anthony the Abbot.  He is also called by several other cognomens: St. Anthony the Great, St. Anthony of Egypt, and St. Anthony of the Desert.  He is famed for being the first hermit to seek desolate places in order to lead a life of prayer and penance.  This led him to fight many conflicts against the devil, which have been immortalized in art.  Just do a Google search for The Temptation of St. Anthony.  Some include nudity, as he was tempted strongly against the virtue of chastity at the beginning of his ascetic life.  Despite his desire for a life of seclusion, he was so successful in drawing disciples to his way of life that St. Anthony is known as the Father of Monasticism.   You can read about his life in St. Athanasius’ Life of St. Anthony.

On the scroll, it says that St. Anthony saw the traps of the devil spread out on the ground.  When he wondered how anyone could escape all these traps, he heard a voice say "Humility."

On the scroll, it says that St. Anthony saw the traps of the devil spread out on the ground. When he wondered how anyone could escape all these traps, he heard a voice say “Humility.”

If you want to read something more anime related, St. Anthony’s life and Inuyasha: The Final Act inspired the following post: Inuyasha and Beating the Devil.

The Four Loves in Shingeki no Bahamut

I was delighted to learn that JP of Beneath the Tangles and Japesland was convinced by one of my articles to give Shingeki no Bahamut another look.  As I have another article on this show up my sleeve, I might as well give him and my other dear readers some more ideas to chew on from this Christian fairy tale.  At least, it has convinced me that it is such, but my readers may easily disagree.  After all, the Christian symbolism feels overwhelmed by pagan dualism and mythology.

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However, we have the example of Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis that Christian truths can be reaped from a pagan world.  I have already mentioned how Shingeki no Bahamut tells the truth about demons and temptation.   The present article will discuss how the show points to human love having a divine origin–not only the love of man for God, but each kind of love C. S. Lewis ponders in his book The Four Loves: Affection, Friendship, Eros, and Agape.

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An interesting thing about Christian theology is its emphasis on relationship, which has its foundation in God: “…God is love” (1 John 4:8).   The two things which characterize God’s relationship to his people are loving-kindness and faithfulness.  One becomes sanctified by maintaining a relationship with God, i.e. remaining in a state of grace, which enables one more and more to love as God does.  The Trinity itself can only be explained through relationship.  After all, everything the Father is, the Son is; everything the Son is, the Holy Ghost is; and everything the Holy Ghost is, the Father is.  The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God.  Not three Gods but one and the same God.  But the Father is begotten of none and does not proceed, the Son is begotten of the Father, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, which Himself is the infinite Love of the Father for the Son and the Son for the Father.

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In a similar way that love is at the core of the mystery of the Trinity, our relationships and loves are how people define us.  People develop certain expectations of us from the company we keep, our parents, our beloved, and our relationship to God–in other words, our four loves.  Shingeki no Bahamut stresses its focus on the four loves through the four significant relationships of the show: Amira and her mother (affection), Favaro and Kaisar (friendship), Amira and Favaro (eros), and Jeanne and St. Michael (agape).  (Of course, few of the hallmarks of romance are apparent in Amira and Favaro’s relationship; but, most would agree that more would have followed had Amira been able to live beyond their parting kiss.)  Each one of these relationships is maintained despite the many factors threatening their dissolution.

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The immutability of these bonds imbue each with a divine aspect.  Death cannot sunder the bonds of Amira and her mother, Amira and Favaro, nor those of Jeanne and St. Michael.  St. Jerome commented once, “A friendship which can end has never been real.”  And the betrayals threatening to break Favaro and Kaisar’s friendship are resolved by the end of the show, and we can look forward to more of their antics should a sequel be indeed forthcoming.  Love transcends death, which shows love as one of the qualities which demonstrate man’s divine image and likeness.  The divine cannot die.

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Which brings up a flaw in this show’s mythology: its St. Michael, who is called a god, does in fact die.  How can the divine die?  The fact that he dies and that there is an afterlife in which he says that he shall still love Jeanne seems to show that the series acknowledges a God greater than the gods!  Of course, central to Christianity is the story of a dying God, Our Lord Jesus Christ, but only his human body died on Good Friday, which his divinity could raise up again on Easter.  It is impossible for the divine, pure Being, to die.  So, does the mythology of Shingeki no Bahamut in fact recognize a “God of gods”?  That’s a question for another time.

Rita, one of the most lovable characters of the past season.

Rita, one of the most lovable characters of the past season.

At any rate, this is a most cursory look at the topic.  If only Lewis’s The Four Loves had been more foremost in my mind, I might have been able to make more of it!  But, I hope that this idea adds more pleasure to your enjoyment of a truly fine series.

A Few Objections to Last Days in the Desert

It seems that a new movie on Our Lord has been made. This one deals with the Temptation in the Desert. Fred Warren does an excellent job describing possible objections to the film, which sounds pretty interesting.

Frederation

Ewan McGregor is Jesus — and the Devil — in an imagined chapter from his 40 days of fasting and praying in the desert. On his way out of the wilderness, Jesus struggles with the Devil over the fate of a family in crisis, setting himself up for a dramatic test.

First of all, if you haven’t yet, read this excellent pre-review of the film Last Days in the Desert and interview of its director and lead actor by Christianity Today‘s Alissa Wilkerson. She mentions a few likely objections from Christian viewers that director Rodrigo Garcia isn’t terribly worried about, but as word of this project gets around, and after it premieres on January 25th at the Sundance Film Festival, I expect a fair number of keystrokes will fly across the aether as Christians who do worry about this sort of thing debate its merits and demerits. I’ll get to that in…

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Rating the Anime of Fall 2014

Since we verge upon the beginning of a new season, it’s high time for me to give you my opinions on the eight shows I watched.  If not for The Banner Saga sucking me into its world, this post would no doubt have been published sooner.  But, anyone with a love for the Viking age, RPGs, and games of frustrating difficulty would be sucked into such a beautifully animated game!  But, let me go on to my ratings.

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8) Akatsuki no Yona – no rating

As you know, I forbear from rating a show until seeing how it ends.  Akatsuki no Yona boasts some great characters, beautiful backgrounds, good fights, and great comedy.  It also engages some interesting moral themes.  However, its vexatious and profuse use of flashbacks would earn it a three star rating if I were to rate it now.  The audience does not need to have complete knowledge of each character’s backstory!  Other than the Blue Dragon’s, they all contain information we’ve gleaned through watching the interaction of the characters in the present.  By resorting so frequently to this device, the writer gives the impression of being far too timid or greatly underestimating the audience’s powers of deduction.

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Despite how the flashbacks slow the pacing, I love this anime, and look forward to more of Yona’s struggle to become a worthy leader, Yun’s sarcastic remarks, Hak’s relentless teasing, and the final battle between Soo-Won and Yona.

 

 

Surprise Hak

Hak is hands down the best male character this season.

 

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7) Inou Battle Within Everyday Life – ★★★½

Kudos to Trigger for making what should have been a dull and forgettable harem story into a fun and sensitive tale of high schoolers with supernatural powers.  A friend of mine has noticed that it did not know whether it wished to be a fantasy, harem, or slice of life story.  I must agree: the story went all over the place.  Many episodes ignored the fantasy elements entirely, and the premise of fairies giving certain people supernatural powers for their entertainment seemed rather thin.  Only the last episode weaved in all these elements successfully.

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Be that as it may, I loved the characters and would watch Inou Battle Within Everyday Life again.  They even managed to make a harem lead interesting!  Though, Hatoko with her placid demeanor concealing a heart capable of great passion steals the show–especially after her rant in episode seven–a rant second only to Kei Kugimiya’s fanservice rant in episode 12 of Majestic Prince.  (Can’t find a link to that on YouTube.  Shikata ga nai.)

 

Don't dare to trifle with Hatoko!

Don’t dare to trifle with Hatoko!

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6) Psycho- Pass 2 – ★★★½

It saddens me that this sequel cannot be rated higher.  The original show came to be my favorite of 2013, after all!  The second season has an incredibly exciting middle but failed to separate itself more sharply from the plot of the first and gave us a dull ending–I almost want to call it a non-ending for how many loose ends it left us.  People want to blame Tow Ubukata for how Psycho-Pass 2 fell flat, but the studio’s wish to create a movie afterwards likely limited Ubukata’s options for the kind of ending he could make.  For me, a satisfying ending to the second season would necessarily have involved Akane Tsunemori toppling the false god of the Sybil System.  But then, the studio could no longer make money on this franchise, could they?

And Shimotsuki wins the award for most pathetic character this season.  Somehow, I could not hate but only despise this treacherous sycophant of the Sybil System.

And Shimotsuki wins the award for most pathetic character this season. Somehow, I could not hate but only despise this treacherous sycophant of the Sybil System.

However, the element of the show which annoys me the most was the shoddy logic applied to the Omnipotence Paradox.  The very fact that God cannot create a stone too heavy for him to lift proves His omnipotence.  To say that God lacks power because He cannot create a rock which he cannot lift is like saying that a being must be both omnipotent and omni-impotent in order to have the quality of omnipotence–an assertion which is obviously insane.  Though Akane’s solution works well enough in predicting the action the Sybil System eventually takes, that system is not omnipotent–as much as totalitarian systems of government do try to stand in the place of God in the minds of their subjects.  At any rate, I hope that this element of the show harmed no one’s ability to reason logically. 🙂

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5) I Can’t Understand What My Husband is Saying – ★★★★

Others may be surprised by how high this series is rated here, but the main characters related to me very well.  Also, this comedy caused me to laugh so hard that I nearly fell out of my chair once or twice.  The show also surprised me in the sensitive way it handled the issues facing young people in Japan over whether to marry and have children.  Danna ga Wakaranai  is not as epic or complex as other anime, but it knew what it wanted to accomplish each episode, executed the stories well, and even developed the characters more in 39 minutes than many series accomplish in twenty four episodes.  Who knew a series of shorts could boast dynamic characters?

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Each week, I found myself looking forward more to this show than any other anime with the exception of Akame ga Kiru.  An accomplishment which reminds me of Tonari no Seki-kun.

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4) Madan no Ou to Vanadis – ★★★★

Were it not for the creator’s obvious love of medieval history, this show would have merited a slightly lower rating.  It had many problems, ranging from certain scenes displaying poor CG animation to Tigre transforming from a dynamic and interesting character to a dull harem lead.  His archery became boring to watch too as every arrow never failed to find its mark–there needs to be some uncertainty to create suspense!  Also, the hole in the center of the knights’ helmets annoyed me to no end–almost as if they placed a bull’s-eye on their helms for Tigre to hit!

Tigre with Bow

 

 

Nevertheless, the characters, intrigue, and battles made up for these defects.  If only they had improved on Tigre’s character, this show might have been better!

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3) Hitsugi no Chaika: Avenging Battle – ★★★★

This show could have become a classic.  It had plenty of originality and great characters.  The only show more quirky than it this past season was Shingeki no Bahamut.  Resorting to a deus ex machina for the ending is probably what keeps me from giving it a slightly higher rating.

Best expression of stunned surprise in an anime ever.  But, considering what happens at the end, I cannot blame them in the least!

Best expression of stunned surprise in an anime ever. But, considering what happens at the end, I cannot blame them in the least!

 

But, it did boast some great characters.  If I were to create a top five characters list for this season, Akari and Frederica would both find themselves on it.

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Red Chaika was not so bad either, but Akari and Frederica stole the show.

 

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2) Akame ga Kiru –  ★★★★

As an aficionado of the manga, I started watching this show hoping to see a masterpiece.  However, the anime suffers from a grave defect: it does not adapt the story convey the mood of the manga in the medium of anime.  When reading the manga, one does not have the impression that it means to be The Game of Thrones of manga.  It is more like the series Combat!! (probably the best WWII TV series ever made), where the fortunes of war may turn against any particular character but the deaths always come out of the blue.  A hundred death flags do not pop up before a character kicks the bucket!  Also, the manga is much grimmer, though there are certain parts of the manga which I was happy not to see again.

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But, not fitting the story to the medium seems to be a ubiquitous problem.  Studios feel like success is sure as long as they don’t deviate from a successful source.  Occasionally, this is true, as with manga like Inuyasha and Rurouni Kenshin, but these are exceptions to the rule.  Gokukoku no Brynhildr failed because they thought that they could animate the manga panel for panel.  The writers of Akame ga Kiru were forced to deviate from the original source for the last several episodes, and the results were rather pleasing–especially the last two episodes.

Akame's Warning

For all that, Akame ga Kiru was a lot of fun to watch.  The voice actors were well chosen, and certain fights were great.  The fight between Akame and Esdeath has to be one of the ten best anime swordfights I’ve seen.  The ending was also more satisfying than most other shows.

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1) Shingeki no Bahamut: Genesis – ★★★★½

Here’s the only show from 2014 to earn four and a half stars from me.  Shingeki no Bahamut boasts a shocking amount of originality for an anime based on a card game.  Despite the heavy use of pagan symbolism, many of the show’s themes convince me that this was a Christian fairy tale.  My dear readers have already perused one article linking the show to the Christian worldview, and I have another in the works.  The first draft of the upcoming article even mentions two works by C. S. Lewis–one fiction and one non-fiction.  Fans of C. S. Lewis are welcome to guess which two works these are.  One of them happens to be perhaps the least popular work he wrote after his conversion.

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This anime excelled very well on all levels.  It just lacks some nebulous quality which prevents me from giving it a full five stars.  You’ve truly deprived yourself if you have not watched this show!

Yes, that's Bacchus riding upon a magic duck.

Yes, that’s Bacchus riding upon a magic duck.