I wish anime seasons synched up with the Tokyo weather.
Summer in Japan rolls on, unbearably hot and humid, but it’s time to turn our attention to the Fall anime season. It’s been a pretty odd year for anime – Summer has proved to be a better season than Spring for the first time I can remember. In fact, given how soft Winter was (I only finished one series that wasn’t a sequel or remake) each season has been successively better than the one before, though the year as a whole is still probably below average. So can Fall continue the trend and give 2013 the finishing kick it needs?
I’ll say this much – there’s a lot of shows. Fall and Spring are the two busiest anime seasons, but there seems to be a higher percentage of at least nominally interesting shows this season than usual. I’m covering 24 series in the preview, which is certainly a record since I’ve started anime blogging. I don’t see a lot of those 24 as having serious potential for greatness, and to be honest there are a large handful I’m effectively taking a flyer on based on one or two factors – my gut says we’re looking at a season whose strength is volume rather than top-end quality, where Summer has been just the reverse. But with that money possibilities out there, there’s a decent chance several series could prove quite worthwhile.
As always I take heart when top-line directors are working, and this season we have both Mochizuki Tomomi and Omori Takahiro – it doesn’t get much more top-line than that. If Spring was a banner season for sci-fi and mecha, Fall seems very strong for sports – this perennially underappreciated genre has several offerings, including two which show real promise in Yowamushi Pedal and Ace of Diamond. Not counting Kinema Citrus still no BONES (though with both Space Dandy and Norogami confirmed for future seasons, the studio at least appears to be alive) but heavy-hitters like Sunrise (very busy) P.A.Works, KyoAni and Production I.G. are represented, including a fascinating co-production between I.G. and Madhouse on the aforementioned Diamond no Ace. Even GAINAX is on the board – sort of, as one of their old projects is resuscitated – as well as their offspring, Trigger. Sadly, Brains Base isn’t.
On the sequel front it’s mostly the usual mediocre crowd like Freezing and Infinite Stratos, though the much-anticipated Little Busters! ~Refrain~ takes the headline for me. We also get another Ryo-Timo reboot of Yozakura Quartet and another season of Hajime no Ippo. There are several original series on the schedule – there can never be too many for me – an almost even split between manga and LN adaptations, and more VN/Game adaptations than we see on a typical schedule.
What about sleepers? Stay tuned for the previews – there’s nothing that leaps off the page like Chihayafuru or Jinrui did, but I see a few hidden gem possibilities lurking.
As always, please vote for your most anticipated series in the sidebar poll!
With that, to the previews:
First Look: Pretty much a straight-up flyer for me, based mostly on Nishizono’s track record as a writer. But the previews and concept art actually look pretty good too, and I have a suspicion this sci-fi kind series might be better than most shows of its type – somewhere in the Gyrozetter range, quality-wise.
First Look: I’m probably asking for it with this LN adaptation. On paper it seems to push all my “NO!” buttons, but again the staff is pretty decent, and the original author Sakaki Ichiro has done some tolerably good work before. Studio Feel did a terrific job with Minami-ke Tadaima, and I’m anxious to see how they follow it up. Outbreak Company is the tale of the child of otaku parents who winds up going to a fantasy world as a “moe ambassador”, and I’m hoping the author knows just how dumb that premise sounds and is in on the joke.
First Look: An original series by Okada Mari for P.A. Works, with character designs by Buriki? That’s going to be one of the headline acts of any season for sure. Fans have been ripping this one pretty hard, based mostly on the hyper-cute character designs, and with Okada on-board there’s sure to be drama both on and off-screen. But while I have my issues with her at times, I have no qualms about her talent. I’m always supportive of original anime, and I deeply respect P.A. Works consistent willingness to take creative risks rather than follow a KyoAni play-it-safe approach. Not much is known about the story apart from that it follows two middle-school friends, a crybaby girl and overprotective boy, and that the guys will likely end up in drag at some point. Shinohara is quite experienced and I liked his work with RDG very much – and a strong director with a restrained sensibility is crucial with any Okada series, judging by the track record so far. No question this could be anything from a season highlight to a disaster, but it seems very unlikely to be boring.
First Look: 30,000 Japanese gamers trapped in a MMORPG? Hard not to think of SAO when reading that. This one is called “Elder Tale” and the mix of players is a bit different, but the superficial similarities are hard to overlook. Reportedly the tone here is somewhat lighter, with RL death not being a danger, and some have said the overall vibe is closer to .Hack than SAO. I have an interest in this sort of scenario, though I haven’t been thrilled with the results of late when anime has tackled it. Competent staff and the usual cast of big-name regulars we’d expect in a show like this, including Nakamura Yuuichi as someone named “William Massachusetts”.
First Look: It’s a good season for sports anime, at least in terms of numbers, and Ace of Diamond is the biggest name in the bunch. It’s a co-production from two of my favorite studios (a first for these two working together AFAIK), with the director of Shirokuma Cafe and Chi’s Sweet Home (so underrated…). Terajima Yuji’s manga has been running since 2006, and has already won both the Shogakukan and Kodansha awards for shounen manga. I haven’t read it myself, but the buzz seems to be that it’s a “sports lovers sports manga” – less a character drama in the Adachi mold and more along the lines of Major, which the focus on the team rather than the individual. This won’t garner much attention in the West – the only sports anime that do seem to be the ones that score with fujoshi, and that mantle seems to rest with this season’s other top sports anime, Yowamushi Pedal, and obviously KuroBas S2 – but I suspect it’s going to be very big here in Japan, where the manga is an institution. As a lover of both baseball and baseball anime, I have Diamond no Ace near the top of my list this season.
First Look: Another one of those “flyer” shows, one I frankly don’t expect to stay with but which I want to give a shot to win me over. It’s Gundam, it’s Sunrise – admittedly Gundam AGE was a mixed-bag, but this franchise is anime royalty. This one focuses on GunPla – kids doing battle with miniature Gundam models – so the natural suspicion is that even more than most Gundam series the main goal here it to sell toys.
First Look: This is one of the cornerstones of the schedule, any way you slice it. The director and writer of Gurren Lagann (Nakashima-sensei also created Oh! Edo Rocket) are reunited, along with Gainax veteran Sushio as Animation Director. With Gainax effectively dead as a creative force, the main hope for Gainax fanboys like me seems to lie in Trigger, the studio Imaishi founded and where so many Gainax refugees have ended up. Kill la Kill seems to be Imaishi’s take on the fighting schoolgirl craze, with the series set on “a campus ruled by force”. The previews look like barely controlled chaos – big, brash, violent, silly and outrageous.
The funny thing is, somehow I’m getting the feeling this is going to be a train wreck. It’s still at or very near the top of my Fall list, don’t get me wrong – with this staff it couldn’t possibly be otherwise – but for reasons I can’t entirely quantify I’m very uneasy about this series. I’ve had the feeling that Imaishi and Trigger are trying a little too hard to be timely and hip, which I don’t think necessarily plays to his strengths as a creative force. I dearly, passionately hope this is a classic in the making, and that my unease is misplaced.
First Look: Transfer student from the big city joins a one-room school in a mountain village with only five students? I’m half-expecting the horrors to start any moment, but manga adaptation Non Non Biyori seems about as tonally different from Higurashi as you can imagine. Superficially this isn’t the type of show that normally clicks with me, but I get a little sleeper vibe here – the animation and art looks quite striking, and Kawamo has worked on some fine shows in lesser roles, and could be a potential sleeper himself in directorial ranks. Yoshida’s credentials as a writer are well-established, of course.
First Look: For the first time in almost a year NoitaminA is back with two first-run series, and they’re both original shows at that. I’m a bit torn, because as much as I support original anime there are so many manga I’d love to see adapted for which NoitaminA seems like the only option. Nevertheless it’s great to see NoitaminA back for the moment at least. Of the two new series this one looks the less promising to me – Umetsu has certainly been around the block and back a few times, but the stuff he’s worked on as creator or director isn’t all that impressive. The premise – it follows three female descendants of Galileo Galilei who are all on international most-wanted lists – is bizarre enough to be interesting, but I’m not picking up much of a vibe from this one.
First Look: My radar about which NoitaminA series is going to be the better is rarely off. It usually amounts to picking the lesser-hyped show – UN-GO over Guilty Crown, Tsuritama over Sakamichi no Apollon, etc. – but this time that factor is about a draw, so it comes down to the talent involved and gut feeling. Omori-sensei is simply one of the very best and incredibly versatile, and the last time Manglobe did NoitaminA we got the best show of the year in Sarai-ya Goyou (given the Manglobe sales curse, I fully expect this show to tank commercially like that and pretty much all of them do). About all we’ve been given is the tagline “To those “adults” who don’t want to become adults… Hero will never give up, never hide, never be defeated, never accept evil”. I like the thought behind that, and there seems to be a bit of Tiger and Bunny in the spirit of the thing – plus the visuals look quite stunning. One of my top picks for the season.
First Look: Here’s another one of those “take a flyer” shows, this one mostly because I tend to like series about onmyoudou. And it has a pretty solid director and writer. On the other hand it’s a LN adaptation, though reviews of the manga version are pretty good. It’s the story of a high-schooler from an onmyouji clan who’s unable to see spirits until he’s reunited with an osananajimi, the next head of the family. I rather like the art and animation in the preview and Ishikawa Kaitou getting more lead roles is nice, though it’s a package deal with yet another HanaKana role. In other words, a mixed bag and who knows – but my sense is that this might just be pretty decent.
First Look: There’s a bit of morbid curiosity with this one, I suppose – just how badly can Yoshino Hiroyuki further screw up a highly successful manga this time? A-1’s decisions with the first season of Magi were baffling. They had a cash cow on their hands, with plenty of source material, and for whatever reason decided to radically change the plot and focus on the least interesting main character (Alibaba) while turning the actual MC into a marginal side character. To add insult to injury they emphasized the worst of Alibaba’a qualities and turned him into a classic whiny and annoying Kaji Yuuki/Yoshino abomination. Yoshino is a full-fledged hack, no doubt about it, but it’ll be fascinating to see how he manages to make Aladdin irrelevant in an arc (Magnostadt) that’s basically his story.
First Look: This is the second half of Valvrave’s split-cour, so don’t expect a whole lot of changes. That means more stupidity, every plot twist in the dictionary and then some, and some of the hammiest dialogue in anime history. And if it’s like the first season, somehow most of it will work quite well. As long as Valvrave continues not to take itself too seriously, it should continue to be an interesting ride – but I hope it stays away from poorly-written rape drama in the second cour.
First Look: Miko and Miki? Sign me up. Miko are everywhere in this story of a fox deity and the girl who’s inherited her family’s one-member-at-a-time ability to see and speak with said deity. Miki Shinichirou plays the deity, but this show has perhaps the best overall cast of the season – Kanemoto Hisako plays the female lead, and supporting players include Kazuhiko Inoue, Tomokazu Sugita, Koshimizu Ami and Tomokazu Seki. This one is a seinen, and seinen adaptations tend to be among the best anime in any given season.
First Look: This is the other big sports manga adaptation of the Fall, and I’m equally looking forward to it. Yowamushi Pedal is an excellent manga, with likeable characters, sharp comedy and a very realistic take on the sport of competitive cycling. It’s framed through the story of a high-school freshman otaku who rides his cheap bike some 45 KM each way to Akihabara frequently, catching the attention of the ace of the tiny Cycling Club. This one seems to have the fujoshi touch, at least if Comiket is any judge, which can mean a lot to sports anime commercially, (though it will be somewhat overshadowed by the colossus that is KuroBas). I think Yowamushi Pedal will prove a good test of the open-mindedness of Western viewers, because there’s everything here that should make a series appealing to a broad audience – it just happens to be sports-themed. It just needs to dodge being screwed up by the adaptation, but both Nabeshima and Yoshida are highly experienced and more than competent, so I think the series is in good hands.
First Look: It’s another go-round on the dance floor with Kishi and Uezu, two of the greatest teases in anime. These guys have a ton of talent that they frequently piss away, but when they stay away from game adaptations the results are usually anywhere from good (Seto no Hanayome) to spectacular (Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita). This manga adaptation comes from SANZIGEN, very rarely seen as a lead studio (they co-produced BRS with Ordet) and it’s the story of the “Fleet of Fog”, a super-weaponized stealth fleet that swept the world 17 years earlier, wiping out humanity’s ability to travel the oceans and taking much of their land. A group of teenagers somehow comes into possession of a fleet of their own and fights back. Sounds like a pretty stock post-apocalyptic sci-fi to me, but there’s certainly enough here that’s intriguing to buy me into the pot for a few episodes.
First Look: Yeah, it’s a light-novel adaptation. But there are lots of mitigating factors with Golden Time. First, it comes from the author of Toradora (Takemiya Yuyuko) which is certainly one of the better LN romances of recent years. It’s also a romance set among college (law school, in fact) students, a welcome rarity in today’s anime environment. The hook here is that the main character’s new best friend has gone to law school to flee the childhood friend with whom he’d shared a promise to one day wed (you can probably guess where this is headed). J.C. Staff has a very experienced writer and director in place here (though Kon is best known for a very different sort of show) and this is the sort of material the studio tends to do very well with. As a bonus the music is by Hashimoto Yukari, who also worked on Toradora, and the aforementioned osananajimi is played by Hochan (who also sings the OP and ED). This isn’t one of the most talked-about shows on the schedule, but I think it has a chance to be one of the best.
First Look: This one, on the other hand, is one of the most talked-about shows of the season – as any KyoAni show always is. I take a somewhat jaundiced view of KyoAni, mostly because to me it seems as if they generally have a distinct lack of creative ambition. Even a show like Free!, which is bold in concept in that in presents a departure for the studio in one very important way, in its execution very much reflects the safe, conservative approach the studio almost always takes. On the other hand they produce some of the most beautiful animation in the business and are undeniably very good at what they’re very good at.
Kyoukai no Kanata may just represent a bit of a departure for KyoAni in that the LN it’s based on seems edgier than what the studio generally tackles – so many of its fans say, anyway. It’s an interesting concept – a boy who’s immune to wounds and the girl he meets as she’s about to jump off the school roof, and a story that seems poised between the physical and spirit worlds. We’ve had the usual flood of pre-airing complaints from KyoAni loyalists and haters – much of it seemingly surrounding the character designs in this instance – but that seems like the usual tempest-in-a-teapot that this studio always generates. The studio has turned over the big chair for the first time to veteran hand Ishidate Taichi. The truth is that Kyoto Animation has only produced two series in the last decade – Kanon and Hyouka – that I consider exceptional, so some of the unrelenting buzz any new show they produce generates is lost on me. But they’re a major player, a true force in the business that does things in a very particular way, and this was the show on their calendar that I pegged as potentially really interesting.
First Look: This is the main event for Little Busters, the entire first season being effectively the prologue. I liked LB a lot better than many others, it seems – it started off in a hole with legions of fans angry that Kyoto Animation wasn’t producing it, and it marks a distinct stylistic change from most of Key’s other works. I find the focus on friendship and innocence quite refreshing and I had few issues with J.C. Staff’s choices in terms of adaptation, but it seems we’re in for a much darker experience with Refrain. I look forward to it, though not to trying to dodge a minefield of spoilers every week.
First Look: Yasuda Suzuhito’s manga has already seen a wide array of adaptations, including an OVA from the very stylish and idiosyncratic Ryo-Timo. He’s back with a full series this time, and the manga fans are back with their complaints about the changes to the character designs. I guess Ryo-Timo seems to be a love-hate kind of artist, and that’s reflected in the reaction to the OVA – I preferred it to the earlier TV adaptation by a wide margin, while others preferred the latter for its more strict adherence to the look of the manga. I like Ryo-Timo a lot and I’m free to enjoy this series on its own terms, so I expect this to be pretty good.
Super Seisyun Brothers – AIC Plus+
Director: Takata Masahiro
Writer: Konparu Tomoko
Schedule: Friday, 25:53, TV Tokyo – Premieres 09/13/13
First Look: I’m taking a bit of a stab in the dark on this, the first new series of the Fall, but it looks agreeably weird. It’s a manga adaptation, the story of two similar sets of siblings (younger brother, older sister) who are all friends (seemingly platonic) and have somewhat otaku-themed misadventures. The boys are played by Ohsaka Ryouta and Ishikawa Kaitou, two of the better seiyuu of the day, and the girls by Kayano Ai and likable climber Yamamoto Nozomi. Konparu is a veteran to say the least – he wrote the adaptation of Adachi Mitsuru’s Touch. This one is another one with a mild sleeper vibe.
Edit: Turns out it’s a five-minute series.
First Look: Talk about stalled projects – this multi-platform (anime, card game, online game) was originally planned by Gainax, Bushiroad and Nitroplus in 2005. The names have mostly changed, but the original concept came from the late Yoshida Sunao (Trinity Blood). Not much is known except it’s sci-fi and mecha, but it’s got the curiosity factor if nothing else. And as a Kinema Citrus project, it’s effectively the first BONES anime since Zetsuen no Tempest finished.
Edit: Shockingly, Neppu has been delayed yet again. The latest target is Winter 2014, as a TV special.
First Look: If you don’t see much info up above, it’s because we haven’t been told much about Pupa. It’s adapted from a horror manga by Mogi Sayaka about a boy and his little sister, who discovers a mysterious butterfly and turns into a creature that consumes humans. Series composition (my guess is Mochizuki-sensei himself), start date, and episode count are still unannounced. But in the end it doesn’t matter – this is on my most-anticipated list anyway, just based on the fact that Mochizuki is as good a director and writer as anybody in TV anime. Add to that the fact that rarely see really good horror anime and I’m psyched for this one, even if we don’t have much to go on yet.
Edit: Sadly, Pupa has been confirmed to be streaming on Niconico, and rumored to be a 5-minute series. A crushing disappointment, if the latter is true especially.
First Look: This one is a total stab in the dark, but there are a few reasons it catches my eye. First, it’s a relatively rare entry into TV non-children’s TV animation from the legendary Toei (my neighbor, about 7 minutes walk). More importantly, though I haven’t watched the net animation it’s based on I sense that Kyousogiga has a thoroughly zany and bizarre way about it, something like Gainax might have made ten years ago. The story is three siblings stuck wreaking havoc in a strange city looking for a rabbit to get them home, but that seems like just an excuse to do very silly things.
Will Definitely Blog: Nagi no Asukara, Diamond no Ace, Kill la Kill, Samurai Flamenco, Yowamushi Pedal, Golden Time, Little Busters! ~Refrain~, Pupa. There are so many other possibilities that I won’t even list them all – safe to assume that every series in the preview is a real contender, and I’ll likely end up blogging a couple of shows that aren’t listed here.
Sleeper Candidates: Non Non Biyori, Gingitsune, Super Seisyun Brothers
OVA/Movie: The OVA calendar is very thin, to be honest, though there is a blockbuster in the bunch:
Chihayafuru (OAD) – 9/13/2013: This may be the last Chihayafuru anime we get for a few years, so I hope they make it count. Will this pick up the story at the training camp Chihaya and Taichi arrived at as the second season ended, or will it be a more traditional OVA side story? The manga remains a force – it just passed 10 million volumes sold – and the second season outperformed the first on Blu-ray, so I think there’s a good chance we will see a third. But it won’t be for a good while, even if it does happen.
Oregairu (OAD) – 9/19/2013: The first season (BD sales indicate there will likely be a second) seemed to alternately piss me off or engage me thoroughly, with no middle ground. To me this is a series with a lot of good ideas that frequently bogs itself down in the usual LN cliches – which makes it a marked contrast to Watamote, which depicts teenage social isolation without resorting to those crutches and never pulls its punches the way this show sometimes did (though I’ll be the first to admit it’s gutsier than most of its brethren in that respect).
Yozakura Quartet: Tsuki ni Naku (OVA) – 10/09/13: It’s a Yozakura Autumn. This OVA is a side story from Volume 11 of the manga.
Suisei no Gargantia (OVA) – 10/25/13: The second BD extra episode from Gargantia. The sales are looking pretty good on this one, so I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a second season at some point.
Space Pirate Captain Harlock – 9/07/2013: Matsumoto Leiji’s legendary pirate returns to the screen – or I should say returned, as this CG adaptation has already released to strong reviews (including one from James Cameron).
Chuunibyou: Takanashi Rika Kai – 9/14/2013: A big-screen effort from Kyoto Animation’s flawed but generally entertaining story of reality, fantasy and growing up to tide fans over until the second season.
Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica: Hangyaku no Monogatari – 10/26/2013: The third Madoka film continues SHAFT’s massive milking of this cash cow. This one is the first that’s actually all new material, and given that Homura is featured in most of the advertising it’s safe to assume she’s the main focus (which she was in the TV series too, in truth).
Sakasama no Patema – 11/09/13 : Yshiura Yasuhiro’s (Eve no Jikan) long-delayed film about a Princess of an underground tunnel world is finally due for theatrical release. There have been four prequel films released online.
Kaguya-hime no Monogatari – 11/23/13: The most anticipated anime film of the Autumn for me, and possibly the most anticipated anime period. A new film from Ghibli co-founder Takahata Isao would always be big news – it’s his first as a director since 1999’s My Neighbors the Yamadas – but with the retirement of close friend Miyazaki Hayao, this movie takes on even greater mystique. Takahata is older (77) than Miyazaki and seems unlikely to direct again, making this adaptation of the eponymous Japanese legend The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter all the more bittersweet. It was originally scheduled to be released simultaneously with Miyazaki’s Kaze Tachinu, but was reportedly behind schedule, resulting in the delay of some three months.
Ghost in the Shell: ARISE – border:2 Ghost Whispers – 11/30/13: Production I.G.’s signature property just won’t go away (they won’t let it) and returns with this, the second in a planned four film series. GiTS is one of those franchises I’ve never quite admired the way I feel like I was supposed to – apart from Kimiyama Kenji’s Stand Alone Complex, anyway – so my excitement level for this one is pretty modest.