Spring is usually the strongest anime season of the year. So how does this one stack up?
It really isn’t a good idea for me to compare this coming season to Spring 2012, which looked like the best anime season in years going in – and lived up the the hype. But I can’t escape the obvious conclusion that this one doesn’t look to be nearly as good as that one did.
There are some positive trends, to be sure. If there’s anything that sticks out for me it’s that this season marks a real renaissance for science fiction. We have mecha series from the likes of Production I.G. and the dean of giant robot anime, Sunrise (two from them in fact) and the TV premiere of the already released adaptation of Matsumoto Leiji’s Space Battleship Yamato 2199. But perhaps the one I’m most looking forward to is Wit Studio’s (read: Production I.G.) adaptation of Isayama Hajime’s highly-regarded manga Attack on Titan.
That said, though, there are some other signs that aren’t nearly so encouraging. The continued course towards LNs taking over from manga as the dominant source for anime adaptations for one, though as usual more of the interesting choices this season are manga-based. The continuing infection of the anime industry by the idol industry for another. The departure of NoitaminA from the schedule a third. There’s also a relative scarcity of top directors on the board, considering how many series are premièring.
Looking at the schedule as a whole, I see that it’s going to generate quite a long preview post, because there are a large number of shows that look interesting enough to make it onto the radar. What I don’t see that I did last Spring (or Autumn) is a big list of series that obviously have the potential to be classics. With this many shows there’s always the potential for surprises, but the apart from the welcome increase in sci-fi the schedule seems pretty heavy with formulaic ecchi comedies and by-the-book LN tie-ins. That happens every season in today’s marketplace, but Spring is often the season that determines how the year as a whole will measure up.
There are a couple of sequels I’m going to tune in for, including the second season of Haiyore! and especially the continuation of Oreimo (which was a series that could be great and could be awful, but ended up being quite worthwhile). We also have a few strong shows carrying over from Winter – Chihayafuru, Uchuu Kyoudai and Hunter X Hunter especially so. But the absence of NoitaminA shows is a major setback – they’ll be sorely missed, though my Thursdays will be a little less hectic as a result.
As always, please vote for your most anticipated series in the sidebar poll!
With that, to the previews:
First Look: A special web preview is due 3/16. This looks fairly interesting for a LN adaptation, with a sci-fi angle and some excellent visuals in the previews. Motonaga-sensei is coming off some excellent work with Jormungand. The plot looks pretty formulaic harem from a distance, but the cast and staff are enough to merit a look.
First Look: This one has a couple of major check-marks in its favor. First, it’s based on an award-winning novel, and novels have proved a fruitful source for superb anime with some regularity. Second, it’s P.A. Works, and that’s a studio who pretty much never fails to at least hold my interest, while always providing lovely visuals. As a bonus the plot is based on Shinto, as the heroine is a 15 year-old girl who’s lived her entire life in the Kumano Shrines. The story moves to Tokyo where she journeys with her childhood friend, and their relationship changes after a terrifying incident. Shinohara and Yokote are long-time industry veterans with a relatively good track record.
First Look: I have some serious issues with the casting choices Manglobe has made here, but I’ll give this adaptation a chance as the manga seems to be quite well-regarded. We don’t see a lot of Josei manga adapted into anime, and those we do tend to be above-average. Not a lot to go on in Suganuma-san’s mixed record as a director and the premise – two young teens living the rough life who end up mixed up with criminal organizations and secret government agencies – comes off as rather silly at first glance. Still, Manglobe does tend to do interesting (if commercially unsuccessful) work more often than not.
First Look: This one is by all appearances a kids series (though it appears in a seinen magazine) and is based on a popular manga, with 21 volumes to date. The animation looks extremely low-rent and it may not even find a subber, but the chief director is Watanabe Ayumu, who had the best 2012 around with Space Brothers and Nazo no Kanojo X. The excellent Yamada-san also handled the adaptation of Ginga e Kickoff, so the staff looks terrific on all fronts. This one could be the GeK of 2013 – a series largely ignored by the West that rides clever source material and top-notch staff to success. A possible sleeper for sure, though until I know it has subs (or a simulcast, as unlikely as that seems) I can’t say for sure I’ll be able to blog it.
First Look: The team of Kishi and Uezu is back with this sci-fi RPG adaptation, working this time with Bridge (Mitsudomoe). The story centers around a group of students who receive emails foretelling deaths, and then enter into a demon-summoning pact after Japan is invaded by… something. I’m a big fan of this writer/director team, but they seem to follow the same formula as some Hollywood directors – alternate between a strictly commercial project to pay the bills, and an art project they really want to do (that would be Aura, which I discuss below). Very often the difference in commitment level is obvious, but with someone like Spielberg you could always rely on the commercial project being slick and well-made – whereas I found the most recent Persona series to be poorly made right down to the rather ugly visuals. This one is the biggest mystery of the season for me, with a lot of boom or bust potential based on Kishi and Uezu’s involvement. I don’t find the art especially attractive or the previews gripping, but these guys are just too talented not to give this show a long look.
First Look: Motonaga-sensei is busy this season, this time paired with veteran writer Yoshida Reiko, whose track record is very good indeed. I don’t know much about the manga by Getbackers artist Ayamine Rando, but the plot has one of the more appealingly retro sci-fi hooks among the large crop this Spring – genetically engineered “princes” attend a special school while learning to protect humanity with giant robots. It doesn’t get much more classic than that – we’ll see if this one can inject some life into the familiar formula. A good start is the casting of relative unknown Aiba Hiroki as the lead.
First Look: No show embodies the rise of LN adaptations in anime more than this hugely popular comedy, yet it remains arguably the best of the lot. It’s not so much that Oreimo is free of the clichés that haunt the format, but that it executes them better – and with a good deal of introspection and self-deprecating wit. That said, the best part about the first season was Hanazawa Kana’s bravura performance as the utterly irresistible Kuroneko. This is one of the least surprising sequels ever, and there are no changes in the top echelons of the staff and cast, so with the multimedia franchise still thriving there’s really no reason to expect anything much different from this second season that we got in the first. Given that Oreimo sneaked into the tail-end of my Top 10 list in a fairly weak 2010, that’s a good thing.
Shinjeki no Kyojin – Wit
Director: Araki Tetsuro
Writer: Kobayashi Yasuko
Schedule: Saturday, 25:56, MBX – Premières 4/6/13
First Look: If I’m to point to one series this Spring that has the stamp of greatness on it, Attack on Titan might be the one. Based on a Tezuka-nominated manga, it’s the story of a dystopian future where humanity has been wiped out by a race of giants, with the few survivors barricaded inside a city with walls big enough to keep the titans out. As if that weren’t bad enough, a super-giant appears that’s big enough to breach the walls. Director Araki is certainly a big name, but I would call his track record mixed – nevertheless, he’s veteran enough that he should be able to stay out of the way if his material is good enough. The cast doesn’t thrill me – Kaji Yuuki as the lead and hardly a name among them that isn’t among the usual suspects – but again, if the source material is as good as its reputation they should be smart enough to let it speak for itself.
Valvrave the Liberator – Sunrise
Director: Matsuo Kou
Writer: Okouchi Ichiro
Schedule: Thursday 25:35, MBS – Premières 4/11/13
First Look: In case you haven’t gotten the drift by now, this season is a renaissance for mecha and sci-fi. As such, it’s only fitting that Sunrise has an offering on the table (and a shame BONES doesn’t). This one is an original series from Okouchi Ichiro, the man behind the Code Geass empire, and director Matsuo (Kurenai, Natsuyuki Rendezvous, Rozen Maiden) has one of the better resumes of the season. The premise (isolated nation caught between two galactic superpowers in the far future, teen hero forced to climb into the cockpit to defend his home) is pretty boilerplate Sunrise stuff, but I really like the art and animation on display in the previews – and it can’t hurt to have Ohsaka Ryouta and Tomatsu Haruka on board as the leads. There’s a lot of quality and experience attached to this project, and more original anime is always a positive thing. I don’t necessarily see greatness here, but this has the makings of an entertaining, mainstream hit.
First Look: Yes, yet another sci-fi offering – this time from industry giants Production I.G. and Gen Urobuchi. I.G. isn’t as great as they once were and Gen isn’t as great as his reputation, but he’s almost always at least very good, and thought-provoking to boot. I like the fact that Gen is flexible enough to tackle different genres, and his comments seem to suggest that Gargantia might be less dark and despairing than we’re used to from The Butcher. It’s yet another tale of a dystopian future and a young pilot dealing with a threat to his people – I won’t blame you a bit if you have a hard time keeping all these plots straight this season – but it should be interesting to see what Gen does with it. Also of note: we have a (stop the presses) actual teenager playing a teenaged male lead in relative newcomer Ishikawa Kaito, though the female cast is full of stalwarts.
First Look: I admit I’m taking a bit of a flyer on this manga adaptation, but hey – it’s got fishing and it’s a mermaid comedy, and my track record along those lines is pretty good. The preview suggests something very madcap and out-of-control, and I quite like the very old-school character designs and art. Yoshihara is a first-time director and this is the mangaka’s only work, so no clues there. Tamura Yukari plays the titular mermaid and she’s usually good for a laugh, and we have the great Nakahara Mai in a supporting role. Interesting trivia: the music is by composer Tezuka Osamu (no relation). Let’s call it a potential sleeper and hope for the best.
First Look: Another entirely unsurprising sequel. Staff and cast is unchanged so expect more of the same – for me, I hope that’s more like what we saw in the first half of S1 than the second. I don’t mind comedies going into serious mode, but I really don’t think it suited Haiyore!, which was more successful as a straight-up parody. The first season had some flat-out hilarious moments, but as a whole it was right on the edge of my blogging threshold. We’ll see about the second – it depends on how many of the much more unpredictable series make the cut, I expect.
Uchuu Senkan Yamato 2199 – AIC/Xebec
Director: Enomoto Akihiro/Izubuchi Yutaka
Writer: Izubuchi Yutaka
Schedule: Sunday, 17:00, MBS – Premières 4/07/13
First Look: Space Battleship Yamato has the distinction of being the very first anime I ever saw – or that I remember seeing, anyway. It was called Star Blazers, dubbed very badly in English, aired at about 6:30 AM on WGN in Chicago and thrilled my sister and myself to bits. I’ve seen several episodes of this remake (which have been out in theatrical and OVA form for awhile) and it’s excellent. Many feel that this is the legendary Matsumoto Leiji’s finest work, and I’m not sure I disagree – in many ways it sets the high bar for a military space epic. If you don’t know this story you owe it to yourself to watch this, and if you do I can’t imagine you won’t – so really, any anime fan should hang their heads in shame if they aren’t tuning in. I don’t consider this a new series given how much of it has already been shown, but I’ll certainly be blogging it.
Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Come wa Machigatteiru – Brains Base
Director: Yoshimura Ai
Writer: Suga Shoutarou
Schedule: Thursday, 25:28, TBS – Premières 4/04/13
First Look: With a long and pretentious title like that, this could only be a LN adaptation. To be frank, this looks pretty dumb and formulaic to me, and the only reason it’s in this preview is because it’s Brains Base. We have yet another tale of a sullen male lead who can’t be bothered with society getting mixed up with the prettiest girl in school… Yada yada – you get the point. This is a new director and overall looks the B Team from Brains Base, but this is one studio whose shows always get a hearing from me. And at least it has Nakahara Mai.
First Look: This dating sim adaptatio is from Enterbrain, who also brought us Amagami SS. That show had it’s ups and downs over three cours, and I don’t know this one at all, but it’s from Madhouse and it’s nice to see longtime veteran Yokoyama finally get a chance to helm a major project. The conceit here is a high-school boy (Shimazaki Nobunaga) who gets a camera and starts photographing the girls in his school, which leads to (apparently) 9 heroines – which I assume means a
two-cour omnibus format (edit: confirmed for 12 episodes, which likely means no omnibus format). The heroines are mostly big names – Nakahara Mai, Endo Aya, Saito Chiwa, Itou Kanae and many more – and I would expect this to be a solid if unspectacular (and uneven) series in the mold of Amagami.
First Look: This is a tough one. To be honest, I find the manga pretty disgusting in many ways. It’s like a slightly less hard-core but even more depraved version of Sundome. Aku no Hana is a series which takes a dim view of the human race and whose bread and butter is depicting the humiliation and degradation of its male lead. Yet it’s undeniably provocative and at times, brilliant. It’s really a show I feel I can’t not watch the first few episodes of (especially as Nagahama-san directed the sublime Mushishi) yet one I can’t imagine that I’ll possibly enjoy, based on how the manga made me react. It’s definitely not going to be boring, and it’s not a cookie-cutter generic anime – and as such, I suppose the fact that it’s being produced at all is a positive thing.
Dansai Bunri no Crime Edge – Studio Gokumi
Director: Yamaguchi Yuji
Writer: Uahata Tatsuhiko
Schedule: Wednesday, 24:30, Tokyo MX – Premières 4/03/13
First Look: This looks agreeably odd. Adapted from a manga, it’s the story of a boy who loves to cut girls hair, and the girl whose hair is “cursed to forever uncuttable” (I wish I could make stuff like that up, but it’s real). This leads to something called the “murder game”, and while I can’t say I can really make heads or tails out of all that, it’s interesting for it’s sheer oddity. We have a very experienced writer and director and an art style that’s quite eye-catching in a gothic sort of way. Maybe a mild sleeper vibe with this one.
First Look: Finally, we have an adaptation of a manga I know. Watase Yuu is an interesting writer and a tremendous artist – and Arata Kangatari is a very involving story. It’s a fantastical take on the body-switching theme, with the two leads boys from alternate worlds – one ours, the other a mythical realm of Shinto-tinged Gods and monsters – who share the same face and the name “Arata”. The story gets pretty dark, especially on the modern side, where the issue of bullying is addressed in some of the harshest and most realistic terms you’ll ever see. This isn’t a truly great manga, but a genuinely good story with beautiful art, so the pieces are in place for what should be a very solid anime. I consider Yasuda-sensei (Shugo Chara and the sublime Ikoku Meiro no Croisee – my top series of 2011 – among others) to be Satelight’s top director, so the series is in good hands – but I sincerely hope this gets two cours, because there’s way too much story to do justice to in one. With the manga ongoing, though, I suspect we’re fated for one cour and an anime-original ending.
Will Definitely Blog: Red Data Girl, Uchuu Senkan Yamato 2199, Oreimo 2, Attack on Titan, Suisei no Gargantia, Arata Kangatari. At least for starters – only 2199, Oreimo and Arata are truly locks. This is a season where I could easily see anywhere from 4-12 new shows ending up making the cut – maybe the biggest range of uncertainty going into any season I’ve blogged.
OVA/Movie: Very slim pickings on the OVA front by Spring standards:
Anime Mirai: Young Animator Training Project – 3/30/2013: The quality of these releases has been spotty over the years, with Oji-san no Lamp being my personal favorite. This year looks more interesting than average, with all three features showing potential. We have Arve Rezzle (Zexcs) finally seeing the light of day, Ryu (Gonzo) and Little Witch Academia (Trigger) all showing off interesting previews.
Boku no Imouto wa Osaka Okan (OVA) – 4/19/2013: The most delightful anime short of the Winter gets an OVA.
Hansaku Iroha: Home Sweet Home (P.A. Works) – 03/09/2013: 2011’s greatest boom or bust anime has a theatrical release, but given how often the TV series pissed me off I’ll wait for the Blu-ray rather than fork over 1800 yen.
Aura: Maryuuinkouga Saigo no Tatakai (AIC/A.S.T.A.) – 4/13/2013: If you’re a fan of the likes of Chuunibyou, here’s the novel series that came first and probably inspired it. I considered Chuunibyou a great idea with decent execution, and with Tanaka Romeo (Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita) as the creator and the Kishi Seiji/Uezu Makoto team clearly passionate about this project, I have high hopes that Aura could deliver on the premise in a big way.
Steins;Gate: Fuka Ryouiki no Déjà vu (White Fox) – 04/20/2013: Steins;Gate hits the big screen, and details are scarce about just what we’re going to get. There’s some feeling that it might tie in with the S;G sequel game, but as far as I know that isn’t confirmed.