The Winter 2014 season promises some very good second cours of Fall 2013 shows – and thank goodness for that.
Winter isn’t normally one of the highlights of the anime year – it and summer are pretty much a crapshoot. You get fewer series to begin with, which cuts down the odds of getting many good ones. Winter 2013 was, well – let’s just say thin. I only finished one series that wasn’t a sequel or a remake. Spring was fair, but Summer was the standout of 2013 – for the first time since I’ve been following anime, it may have been the best season of the year. And that’s a good thing because Fall – normally along with Spring the seasons we rely on to make a year – has likewise only been so-so. Summer overperforming effectively saved 2013 from being a down year and turned it into something close to an average one.
I noticed in going through the chart for the coming Winter 2014 season that more than ever, I was looking at series that seemed borderline and ending up adding them to the preview. The reason is simple – if I hadn’t, it would have been the shortest preview I’ve ever done. The pattern repeats over and over – nearly all the shows on this list either have one or two selling points that got them there, or a few major red flags that weren’t enough to displace them. I don’t see a tremendous amount of upside here, either in terms of quality at the top or quantity in the upper-middle – rather, a lot of series that look pretty mediocre on paper. I’ve seen worse – I don’t think we’re more overloaded than usual with cookie-cutter LN adaptations, for example – but this is the least interesting-looking batch of manga adaptation choices I’ve seen on one schedule. The saving grace is that we have a fair number of original series, which tend to produce a higher grade of anime than any other segment – but even there, on paper at least that normally august group doesn’t spark a whole lot of excitement for me.
To be honest, there are only two series on the schedule that I’m genuinely excited about, and one of them – Gin no Saji – is the second of a split cour. The other is Space Dandy, which in theory could be plagued by the same issues that have turned Kill la Kill into a disappointment but somehow doesn’t inspire the same trepidation in me (in Watanabe we trust). It’s one of two series seeing BONES return to the schedule at last, and by far the more interesting going in. In terms of theme nothing (sci-fi, sports, romance) really jumps off the page unless you count two Nobunaga reimaginings in one season – it’s a pretty standard variety pack of today’s anime landscape that doesn’t lean too heavily in any one direction or appear to have a lot of cutting edge to it. In terms of staff Watanabe Shinichirou and Mochizuki Tomomi (yes, Pupa is finally getting an air date) are the only names from the truly elite class of directors, though “1-A” guys like Mizushima Tsutomu are represented here and there.
The sequel group looks – as it almost always does – an uninspiring bunch for the most part. As for sleepers, I have a couple in mind as I always do…
As always, please vote for your most anticipated series in the sidebar poll!
With that, to the previews:
First Look: Normally I get upset when an adaptation I’m looking forward to is revealed to be a short series, but 10 minutes seems about the max that Tonari no Seki-kun could pull off. The manga is a series of vignettes about the absurd stunts a silent boy named Seki-kun pulls off at his desk, much to the chagrin of his neighbor Yokoi. It’s often hilarious but offers nothing in terms of conventional plot or character development, so a short run-time seems like a wise choice. I don’t know how this is going to work as an anime but I do find the manga charming as hell, so I’m pretty stoked to find out. On a side note Mutoh-sensei directed the underrated but highly deviant Haunted Junction, one of the very first anime I ever watched.
First Look: My main source of interest with this odd-looking little series is that it’s based on a manga by Oshikiri Rensuke, author of the excellent Hi Score Girl. Frankly I wish that’s the manga that had gotten the adaption – though I suspect that will happen eventually – but I like Oshirkiri’s unmistakable art style and quirky humor. This is a sort of comic horror about a little girl who can see evil spirits, and the pink monster named Pupipou she brings home one day. The manga isn’t as good as Hi Score Girl but it has it’s moments, so we’ll see where first-time director Suzuki will take it.
First Look: This is a prequel to the 2011 Madhouse film, The Princess and the Pilot. I enjoyed that film quite a lot – it was criminally underappreciated in fact – and while there’s almost no crossover in staff or cast and even the studio has changed, early indications are that this one could have some of the same charm. This series chronicles the adventures of an orphaned prince searching for “the end of the heavens”. I’ve always been a sucker for aviation-themed anime, and light-novelist Inumura Koroku showed a certain skill with character drama in the movie’s story. Strong cast too, with Aoi Yuuki as the female lead and Hanae Natsuki and Ishikawa Kaitou as the two main males.
First Look: This is one of those shows that I’d check out in a good season, but probably wouldn’t have made the preview. About the biggest draws are that it’s a manga (4-Koma) and not a LN, and that writer Fukihiko Shimo has worked on some rather good series. The story seems generic as hell – a girl finds out on her 16h birthday that the guy who just moved into her house (with his sister) is her fiancee. Pretty much straight-up flyer territory here.
First Look: Another flyer, an adaptation from the same light-novelist as Karas. Magical girl enters and disrupts the life of ordinary high-school boy? Stop me if you’ve heard this before… But it’s Madhouse, the preview art looks nice, and it sports a very veteran director and writer – both of whom worked on one of my all-time favorite series, Pita Ten (though the manga was even better). I’m not expecting a whole lot but there’s enough here to give it a chance.
First Look: Nisekoi is the latest WSJ manga to hit the small sceen. It’s a middling seller by their standard and not one of the better series in the magazine, IMHO, but this story of the teenaged son and daughter of rival Yakuza gangs nevertheless has a certain charm to it. There’s a morbid curiosity in seeing a WSJ series in Shinbou’s hands, though it seems like a very odd fit indeed in this case. Most of SHAFT’s work has been a miss for me over the last few years, but at least when they fail they usually do so spectacularly.
First Look: Without any question, this is the most anticipated series of the season for me. Watanabe, Satou Dai, BONES, sci-fi – where does one even begin? From the uber-funky OP I was hooked, and when the news came down that Space Dandy would actually be premiering on U.S. television (Cartoon Network) I was even more intrigued. BONES is one of the last holdouts in the industry against the current micro-marketing strategy, and I always root hard for any of their shows even if I’m not personally a fan. But I’m really hoping to be a fan here.
The downside here seems obvious – Kill la Kill. We have a big-name director reuniting with the writer he paired with in his most famous work, talk of raunchy comedy, and previews full of fanservice. I put Watanabe on another tier than Imaishi, though – there are very few others I’d put on it, in fact – and I just don’t think he’s capable of directing a series without at least a modicum of wit and cleverness. The animation and art looks fabulously old-school, but with a modern fluidity. The plot is incredibly old-school too – a pompadour-sporting dude named Dandy traveling through space with a defective robot and a talking cat, looking for aliens and chicks (and presumably alien chicks). If this doesn’t turn out to be special it’s going to be a huge disappointment – especially given how thin the rest of the schedule looks.
First Look: Production I.G.’s offshoot Wit brings us an adaptation of a manga about the chief aide to the God-King of Hell as he wrestles with the vagaries of administration in the underworld. I’ve heard pretty good things about the manga, and the director here is a strong one – he did a fantastic job with Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun for Brains Base. We’ve seen this “Daily Lives of Arch-Demons” routine played to the hilt the last few seasons, but this is one I get some sleeper vibes from – the art is distinctive and arresting, and there seems to be a good deal of intelligence in the source material. I’ll cast my lot with seinen series and take my chances most of the time, and this one looks like it has a chance to be one of the better shows of the season.
First Look: Mizushima Tsutomu is one of the heavyweights in the industry, and while his track record has some peaks and valleys he’s generally a reliable hand at the tiller. Yes, it’s another magical girl disrupts the normal life of a high-school boy premise, but I’m assuming something drew Mizushima-sensei to this material so I’ll give it a chance. This time the girl is a school idol who reveals herself as the designated protector of said main character after she’s forced to save him when the school building collapses. Seems generic, but Mizushima punches the ticket for at least a few episodes.
First Look: Yet another flyer based on a director, this time Okamura Tensai (Darker Than Black, Ao no Exorcist, Wolf’s Rain). It’s just that sort of season. All we really have is “secret society bent on world domination led by a little girl”, which isn’t much to go on, but curiosity alone gets this one into the game. Aoi Yuki is singing the OP so it seems a good bet she’s voicing the female lead, but not even the cast has been announced yet.
First Look: This one definitely goes in the sleeper file. The story surrounds a middle-school girl named Fushimi Inari (heh) who saves a fox spirit and as a reward, asks to be turned into the girl her tsuntsun crush has a crush on. After the resulting snafu she ends up being able to shapeshift at will. There’s a lot going for this one – interesting premise, Kyoto setting, attractive art, and of course you can’t go wrong with fox spirits. There’s nothing special in the staff or cast list and this is the first time IMS has taken the lead role as a studio, so this might be a series with a pretty tight budget.
First Look: Not to be a broken record, but here’s yet another borderline show getting the benefit of the doubt. It’s a LN adaptation about an agricultural high school in Hokkaido (no, not that one – I’ll give the benefit of the doubt to all concerned and say coincidence), and a main character who’s an idol otaku whose favorite idol happens to enroll and sit next to him. Of course we also have the requisite class full of oddballs who fulfill the trope requirements. The red flags are all over this one, but Shin is certainly talented and produced good stuff when he’s on his game, and he’s coming off by far his best work ever in Watamote.
First Look: Hamatora is a bit of a mystery project. NAZ is a new studio as far as I know, and it’s an original series by the writer of Ace Attorney with character designs by Blood Lad’s Kodama Yuuki. It also features the gloriously inconsistent Kishi Seiji, for the first time in the “Chief Director” role and the first time in ages without his normal writing partner Uezu Makoto. Plot-wise it sounds halfway-intriguing: “Minimum Holders” are a tiny group of humans who’ve developed superpowers, and the main characters are two cut-rate detectives and a cop who investigate the murder of a bunch of them. Maybe a bit of a Durarara vibe, which wouldn’t be a bad thing.
First Look: No changes at the top for Chuunibyou, returning for a second season of printing money for KyoAni and filling the 7th floor at Toranoana. This show grew on me to the point where by the time it finished, it was probably my second-favorite (a very distant second) KyoAni series in the post-Kanon era. But I see no urgent need for a sequel – I thought the first made the point it was trying to make and ended pretty darn well, so I’m more than a little dubious about whether the second can bring anything meaningful to the table.
First Look: This time the studio is the factor that buys me into a series that otherwise seems pretty dubious. Brains Base hasn’t had their best year but they still have a lot of credibility with me, and the manga this series is based on seems to be relatively well-liked. No, we don’t really need another series about a high-school boy joining a club full of crazy girls who make his life hell, and I doubt anyone could find much original to say in writing one – though in mangaka Haruno Tomoya’s defense that was marginally less true in 2008, when he started the manga. But it certainly isn’t beyond the realm of possibility that D-Frag might work as a comedy well enough to be a pleasant diversion, and this season that amounts to a ringing endorsement.
First Look: It’s great to have BONES back with two series this season, though this is definitely the B-lister going in. This manga adaptation premiered at Anime Festival Asia and seems to have been pretty well received – it’s the story of a God so minor he doesn’t have a single worshiper, and the human girl he ends up saving. The cast is pretty much of the usual suspects variety and you could hardly ask for a greater contrast between BONES’ two directors this season in terms of stature, but it’s still BONES so I’ll go in with an open mind and reasonably high expectations.
First Look: The second cour of Silver Spoon joins NoitaminA in January, and it’ll be the first time the block has aired two shows I’ve been following in quite a while. Arakawa-sensei’s manga continues to be a sales colossus, and the first season delivered the smart, funny and emotionally penetrating effort most everyone expected – it was pure class. The only change is that the veteran Ito Tomohiko has stepped down as director (he’s still acting as sound director) in favor of Deai Kotomi, who worked as an episode director during the first season. I would rather not have seen any change as good as that first season was, but while Deai has no series directorial experience, the resume is almost astonishingly high-quality in terms of the shows she’s worked on. Along with Space Dandy this is my top pick for the season, and comes with considerably less uncertainty.
First Look: I previewed this last season, of course, but it was delayed for unspecified (but perhaps not difficult to guess at ) reasons. The good news is that it has a TV airing instead of the originally reported Niconico, and will apparently though not officially be full-length (not that the 5-minute rumor ever seemed solid). The bad news is the more I look at the source material, the more doubts I have – it’s not so much a matter of it being scary, but really sick. We’re not just talking incest or cannibalism here – it’s both, and really graphic incest and cannibalism. This may be the first time Mochizuki’s legendary prowess as a sound director might not be such a good thing. I have to trust that a titan like Mochizuki-sensei wouldn’t choose this material unless he felt he could do something special with it, but it would be fair to say I have serious doubts about whether this is going to be my cup of
human flesh tea.
Will Definitely Blog: Space Dandy, Gin no Saji II, Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta, Pupa (to start). Shortest list I’ve ever had going into the season. There are enough candidates in the rest of the pack that I’m sure a couple will exceed my expectations and I’ll blog at least a few of them.
Sleeper Candidates: Pupipou!, Hoozuki no Retetsu, Hamatora, Inori KonKon Koi Iroha
OVA/Movie: As so often happens (the reverse is also true) when we have a weak-looking TV schedule, the OVA crop looks strong. Winter tends to be a big OVA season in any event. It’s a busy calendar with some big headliners at the top:
Shingeki no Kyoujin: Iise no Techou (OAD) – 12/09/2014: The first of what are sure to be an endless parade of Attack on Titan follow-ups, focusing on the events depicted in an old journal found by Levi and Erwin on one of their missions outside the walls.
Blood Lad (OVA) – 12/10/2013: Blood Lad was one of the real underrated gems of 2013, and is we’re surely never going to get a second season this OVA is likely the last we’ll see of it on-screen. All we know is it’s an “unaired episode” packaged with the 10th manga volume.
Yozakura Quartet: Yoza-Quar! (OVA) – 12/18/13: There are no less than four Yozakura OVAs appearing this season, three of them part of this mini-series. As if the service in the TV series isn’t blatant enough, this one promises the characters in a “slightly risque” setting.
Neppu Kairiku Bushi Road (TV Special) – 12/31/13: One of the longest and windiest roads in anime development history finally comes to an end as Bushiroad finds the airwaves at last on New Year’s Eve, now in the hands of Kinema Citrus. I’ve lost count of how many previews this project has shown up in, but unless the special gives birth to a TV series I suppose this will be the last one.
Natsume Yuujinchou: LaLa Special (OAD) – 12/2014: More Natsume Yuujinchou is always a reason to celebrate. This is the first of two projects this Winter, a special original episode being sent to subscribers of LaLa Magazine. Based on the promo art you can expect Natori and Matoba at least to show up.
Mushishi Tokubestsu-hen: Hihamukage (TV Special) – 1/04/14: When the teasers about a new Mushishi project first appeared I allowed myself to hope it might be a completion of the original manga adaptation, so initially I was a bit disappointed when “Hihamukage” was announced. Still, new Mushishi after almost eight years is a glorious thing – this was one of the very best manga and anime of the 2000’s. This will be an adaptation of a two-chapter special Urushibara Yuki is writing. Director Nagahama Hiroshi is back, thankfully giving us all a reason to forget about his last effort.
Kamisama no Inai Nichiyoubi (OAD) – 1/22/14: Kaminai was certainly a flawed series, but there was something unique and special about it. No idea what to expect from this “13th episode” but I’ll certainly be checking it out.
Little Busters! EX (OAD) – 1/29/14: The start of the 8-episode adaptation of “Ecstasy”, which was an adult version of the VN with new heroines. I suspect we’ll all be in need of a mood-lightener after the series finale, but I view this as a place holder until we get a “Kud Wafter” adaptation.
Natsume Yuujinchou: Itsuka Yuki no Hi ni (OVA) – 2/05/14: This seems likely to be the more substantial of the two original NY projects this season, though we don’t know any details on the plot yet. I’m hoping for another appearance by Kogitsune myself.
Yozakura Quartet ~Tsuki ni Naku~ (OVA) – 2/07/14: The first volume of this OVA actually appeared in October. We have a TV series that just skipped over the events of the last OVA series, and a new OVA series that’s depicting events that take place after the TV series is going to end. Very confusing way Tatsunoko has chosen to lay out this story – beware of spoilers for ~Hana no Uta~ if you watch the first ~Tsuki ni Naku~ OVA.
Hunter X Hunter: The Last Mission – 12/27/2013: Another big-screen appearance for the legendary Hunter X Hunter, this one seemingly focused on the Chairman selection (and containing elements from the post-Chimera Ant portion of the manga). Togashi doesn’t seem to be involved in the scenario this time, though the writer is Kishima Nobukai, one of the writers of the 1999 TV series adaptation (everyone can decide for themselves if that’s a good thing or not). Director Kawagachi Keichirou has done good work, but seems to be about as good as the material he has to work with – so the script will tell the tale here.
I liked “Phantom Rouge” better than most of the fans seemed to, and my expectations for “Last Mission” are reasonably high. I don’t think it will be on a par with Togashi’s best stuff but that’s an impossibly high bar to begin with. As long as Togashi is on hiatus projects like this are critical to keep the momentum of the franchise going so I hope it does reasonably well.
Majocco Shimai no Yoyo to Nene – 12/28/2013: I get sleeper vibes from this one. Seems like a real departure for ufotable, a straight-up children’s film about two magician sisters from an alternate universe who end up in our world.
Tiger & Bunny: The Rising – 2/08/2014: The second T & B film, set after the events of the TV series.