Summer 2013 made history, and for the right reasons. Can 2014 follow suit?
By the time Summer 2014 begins, anime’s year will be half-over. And with a few weeks left in Spring, it’s looking like we’re on track for a pretty mediocre year. I’d call 2013 roughly average (2012 was considerably better) and right now, I think 2014 is running behind last year’s pace. Winter was downright awful and Spring has been decent, but much is expected of Spring – normally (though not in 2013) it’s the best season of the anime year. If not for a glorious revival in sports series anime would be in the serious doldrums at the moment.
Flash back to last June. Looking ahead to that Summer, it looked decent by summer standards, but certainly not as good as it turned out to be. In fact last year Summer was the best season despite its usual smaller volume, which is the first time in my memory that’s ever happened. And thank goodness, too, because it turned what would have been a brutal year with an average summer into a respectable one. The pressure is on 2014 to buck history again, but we may be pressing our luck asking that from two summers in a row. On balance things look pretty good by Summer’s usual standard.
As usual it’s a shorter list of total shows, and a shorter list of ones that made this preview – off about a third from Spring in both cases. Quality trumps quantity every time, though of course less shows means less chances for breakouts (which is why 2013 was so unusual). As I did last year I see several shows that look genuinely interesting, though there’s no Mushishi or Baby Steps that jumps out as clearly above the pack. Trends? At a glance there seems to be a stronger Seinen influence than normal, especially for summer. There’s also a strengthening of the trend towards more shows specifically targeting female otaku – something you can expect to see more and more of, given the industry’s invariable focus on whatever they see as the latest commercial craze and how long it takes production cycles to fully reflect it. And while several sports series do continue, there’s really nothing new in that genre – while production committee will continue to search for the next KuroBas or Free, the overall sports wave may have crested (if it was ever more than mere chance).
There are some big names on the docket – no less than two series from Watanabe Shinichirou, a new original from Urobuchi Gen, and an interesting and odd choice for Kasai Kenichi. It should be a strong season in terms of disc sales, though largely due to shows (SAO II, Monogatari, Persona 4, Kantai Collection) that won’t be on my radar. Kuroshitsuji returns with a series that should get the anime back on-track with canon, and one of the biggest names in manga and anime history marks its 20th anniversary with a reboot. In terms of source material it’s pretty evenly balanced between manga and LNs, with games being well-represented as well, and if you include sequels we almost reach double-digits in original series, which while no guarantor or quality is probably a positive development.
As always, please vote for your most anticipated series in the sidebar poll!
With that, to the previews:
First Look: It certainly isn’t every day that one of the most popular and influential properties in manga/anime history – one so pervasive it’s even modestly famous in the West – gets a reboot. So while
Biscuit Krueger’s Takeuchi Naoko’s manga and subsequent adaptations aren’t among my personal favorites, they’re certainly very important – it’s one of the most-imitated series ever. This 26 episode ONA has been simmering for years, but all signs finally point to “yes”, and it promises to be more faithful to the manga than the earlier anime (supposedly). I don’t much care about that as long as it’s entertaining. It’s not among my most-anticipated series of the year, but I’ll certainly be following it with much interest.
First Look: Definitely a flyer for me, but this generic-looking LN adaptation has enough potential to merit a look. Kawaguchi (Minami-ke Tadaima) and Arakawa are a very solid writer-director team. A bunch of students at the school paper answering requests from readers? It could be as derivative as that sounds, but I have at least a minor hunch that Jinsei could be more clever and witty than it first appears. Definitely not in the upper-tier expectations-wise, but who knows, maybe this show will surprise me.
First Look: The second season of Space Dandy approaches with much less fanfare and consternation than the first. I think that season accomplished exactly what it set out to do – it was extremely popular on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block (where it premiered, In English), even as it was relatively under-appreciated in Japan. Both were highly predictable occurrences.
Artistically, I think the first season was also mostly successful. As with any series so resolutely episodic there were significant peaks and valleys, but the overall level rose significantly as the series progressed, with several outstanding episodes late in the run. It also began to pay off some of the seeds it planted early in the series, bringing together the series mythology in such a way as to give seemingly random earlier events significance (the ED was always the biggest clue as to what was really going on). Visually one of the most impressive series of the year, full of interesting ideas and highly experimental visually, Space Dandy was occasionally a fascinating mess, but more often just fascinating. I very much look forward to seeing what it has on offer this summer.
First Look: After an Okada Mari anime-original season which lost the essence of Kuroshitsuji in an ocean of forced feminization and fetishism, we’re back to the manga with “Book of Circus”. Will this series simply pretend that one never happened? Presumably – and I won’t complain if you won’t.
For this sequel we have a “new” director in Abe Noriyuki, though as the man behind such chestnuts as Bleach and the underrated Tantei Gauken Q he’s definitely not new to anime. And of course, Okada is out – though the fact that Yoshino Hiroyuki is in hardly inspires confidence. If he sticks to the source material (see Magi S2) Yoshino can be adequate, so hopefully he does so here – this is in my view the best part of the manga. It’s dark, darkly funny and no holds barred. This series definitely isn’t to everyone’s tastes (it isn’t even always to my tastes) but at its best Black Butler delivers a ton of style, sharp wit and genuinely disturbing horror. This one should be quite good if Yoshino doesn’t screw it up.
First Look: The name you don’t see on the masthead is Urobuchi Gen, but that’s the one everyone recognizes in this somewhat mysterious anime original series. Gen created the concept for Aldnoah.Zero but he’s not handling scripts, which should be an interesting thing to watch play out. In Aoki Ei we have an excellent and versatile director, and the character designs (which I love) are from Shimura Takako, the mangaka behind Hourou Musuko (the adaptation of which Aoki-sensei directed) so this show will likely be as good as the writing behind it.
We don’t know a whole lot beyond the tagline, “Let justice be done. Though the heavens fall.” It seems to be an alternative history where mankind went to war with Martians, there’s definitely a mecha element and the setting seems to be a military school. Given Urobutcher’s involvement a certain amount of despair seems inevitable, but he seems to show in Suisei no Gargantia that he was looking to move past that as a universal constant (which I think is a good thing), though whether that was a one-off or a trend Aldnoah.Zero will go a long way towards revealing.
First Look: It seems odd to think that Watanabe Shinichirou basically did no TV in the decade before Sakamichi no Apollon, and now he has two series on one season. Here he reunites with MAPPA and NoitaminA for another interesting-looking original anime. We know he’s re-teaming with longtime collaborator Kanno Youko for music, but crucially (given that this is an original) not who’s handling series composition. Might be Watanabe himself, but I’d bet against that.
As with Aldnoah.Zero we don’t have a lot of detail – a tagline (“Pull the trigger on the world”) and a blurb about a shocking terrorist attack in Tokyo perpetrated by two teenaged boys. These are children that “shouldn’t exist”, and together they make up Sphinx, which seems destined to trigger something big with their terror campaign. Based on that, who knows if this is going to be any good – but bloodlines, bloodlines, bloodlines. MAPPA is a beacon of art for art’s sake and Watanabe is Watanabe, so it’s hard not to be excited about the potential of Terror in Tokyo.
First Look: Yeah, okay, it’s yet another school romcom. There’s barely enough here to scrape into the preview, but there is enough. It’s a manga rather than a LN adaptation, pretty decent director (one of the few women getting regular directing work), and a terrific cast – Nakahara Mai, Mamoru Miyano and both Daisuke and Yuuki Ono (why do they always seem to travel in pairs?) mainly. The hook here is that the object of the main character’s affections is a shoujo mangaka – and the fact that the POV character is a girl despite the fact that this isn’t published in a shoujo magazine (it’s released in Gangan Online). In fact it seems refreshingly demographic-label free, which leads me to hope it may offer at least an unusual take on the high school romance angle.
First Look: Another original from P.A. Works, Glasslip certainly has the classic look of the studio suffusing it. The characters are very cute, the backgrounds lush, and wistful youth is everywhere. We don’t know a whole lot about the story apart from that it focuses on six teens in Fukui (which lead to interesting dialects, at least) one of whom dreams of being a glass artisan. I’m a fairly big fan of PAW and Nishimura-sensei directed arguably their best work, True Tears, but I haven’t been a huge fan of what he’s done since. This one looks a bit too self-aware to me – as if the studio is trying too hard to be what the stereotypical public impression of it demands. But with an original series there’s obviously not much to go on until we see Glasslip in action, and as a P.A. Works show alone it raises my interest level above the norm.
First Look: There’s one main reason I’m previewing this and one alone – Kenichi Kasai. Clearly I’m not the intended audience for Love Stage!!, which looks like an old-school shounen ai show (if you’re too young to remember that term, think “shoujo romance except with a male-male pairing”), but Kasai-sensei is simply one of the very best directors in TV anime and that’s enough to get me on-board for an episode at least. Yokote Michiko is also an excellent adapter, and the general consensus seems to be that the manga is at least a well-written example of what it is.
First Look: I don’t think there’s any question that this somewhat obscure manga is getting an adaptation strictly due to the much-deserved success of mangaka Watanabe Wataru’s next series, Yowamushi Pedal. That’s becomes a genuine cross-demographic (somewhat) hit, but Majimoji Rurumo ended several years ago and doesn’t seem likely to repeat that level of success, though it will certainly bridge the gap between seasons of Yowapeda nicely.
Thematically this certainly sounds quite a different beast from Yowapeda. It’s the story of a student known as “the most hentai guy at school” who’s a bit of a social pariah. Playing around with a book on summoning witches as a lark he ends up summoning a real one, and hilarity (hopefully) ensues (though with a bit of a dark side, too). My take on the manga? It’s not as polished and sincere as Yowamushi Pedal – which is hardly a surprise – but it does contain a good amount of Watanabe-sensei’s characteristic wit and quirky sensibility.
First Look: Ao Haru Ride is this season’s token shoujo romance, and the manga it’s based on seems to be quite highly regarded. The plot seems pretty grounded – a girl who was ostracized by the girls in middle school because she was too popular with the boys decides to “reset” herself when she gets to high school by acting as tomboyish as possible. But then she meets the object of her unrequited love from middle school, except he’s now got a new name and tells her he feels now the way she did then.
Production I.G. has a new director on this one, though writer Konparu is highly experienced adapting shoujo (she did series composition on Kimi ni Todoke) and it’s very, very rare for I.G. to ever produce anything that’s not at least decent. I could have lived without Kaji Yuuki as the male lead, but this might be the sort of role where he’s tolerable and at least he doesn’t seem to be in every other show this season. Ao Haru Ride seems a pretty safe bet to be solidly watchable at worst, and there’s the possibility it could be better – though of course there’s the specter of another one-cour adaptation of a long (10 volumes and counting) shoujo manga to worry about.
First Look: There’s an awful lot to like in this adaptation of Yoshino Satsuki’s manga, one of my top picks for the upcoming season. The manga, for starters – it’s superbly written and lovingly drawn, very warm and very acerbic at the same time. We’ve also got a very fine studio (usually – let’s just pretend Black Bullet never happened) in Kinema Citrus, a director in Tachibana Masaki whose resume in various roles reads like a laundry list of the finest anime in the last 20 years – Evangelion, Seirei no Moribito, Eureka Seven, Ghost in the Shell, and FMA among others. Top that off with music by the sublime Kawai Kenji, another Moribito veteran, and you’re really cooking with gas here.
Barakamon is the tale of a calligrapher from Tokyo who’s “exiled” to a small island as punishment for punching a famous colleague. The island is predictably full of off-key locals – including a plethora of kids who will be played by actual kids – and Barakamon is really the story of this man’s culture shock as he sees a world he never knew existed. Simply put, the only way this show isn’t a gem is if they screw up the adaptation – and there’s enough pedigree behind it that I don’t expect them to do that.
First Look: This year represents something of a renaissance for horror as an anime genre, and Tokyo Ghoul stands near the head of the pack. I haven’t read Ishida Sui’s manga but those that have are almost uniformly positive, and the previews have done nothing to dampen my enthusiasm. Director Morita Shuhei is an interesting choice – he’s not well-known among Western anime fans, but has done some very interesting OVAs and shorts such as KakuRenBo and last year’s Tsukumo, which was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Animated Short Feature. The character designs are eye-catching as well.
The story is centered around “ghouls”, beings who look human but must feast on human flesh to survive, and the young man whose fate is forever changed by his encounter with them. There’s a lot of interest in this series – Funimation has already licensed it in North America and it may just be that rare show that succeeds both commercially and artistically. There are a few yellow flags – as great as the previews look, Pierrot’s recent track record on production values is spotty at best. And manga fans seem very concerned with the fact that the series length has not yet been announced, predicting disaster if this is a one-cour show (I suspect it will be two, with the possibility of more if it sells). With those caveats, Tokyo Ghoul is definitely in the top tier of Summer anime in terms of expectations.
First Look: We don’t have whole lot to go on yet with this original series, apart from the fact that it’s definitely a mecha series that has an old-school look and feel to it. Director Ootsuki-sensei is mostly connected with soft ecchi stuff like ToLoveRu and Kanokon, but the big name here is Sato Tatsuo, who’s a big name in science-fiction anime and has been for a long time – he’s written and directed prominent series both old (Uchuu no Stellvia) and new (Mouretsu Pirates). I find Sato’s record a bit of a mixed bag, but he’s penned some good stuff when he’s on, and while Xebec is hardly a bastion of quality this sort of series is typically right in their strike zone.
First Look: This LN adaptation is straight-up flyer material, but what the hell – I like trains. It’s a small studio with an undistinguished director and writer, and the always worrying prospect of Fukuyama Jun as a teenager. Plus, there’s been a rather ugly social media pissing contest between the LN writer and the anime staff – never a good sign about the people involved. I sort of like the idea of a story, though, where the evildoers are evil because they want to privatize the national railways (this is an alternate universe story, as that actually happened in Japan decades ago). Frankly I’m not expecting much, but surprises do happen.
Will Definitely Blog: Space Dandy 2, Zankyou no Terror, Barakamon, Tokyo Ghoul. Yeah, that’s a pretty short list of “definites”, but there are more shows than usual that just barely miss the cutoff so I’m confident several more are going to stick..
Sleeper Candidates: Gekkan Shoujo Nozoki-kun, Majimoji Ruromo, Jinsei
OVA/Movie: It’s not a huge crop of OVAs this season, but the quality level seems pretty high. Among the candidates:
Little Busters EX! (OVA) – 6/25/2014, 7/30/2014: Episodes 6 and 7 of the “Ecstasy” adaptation. “Kud Wafter” announcement when?
Noragami (OAD) – 7/17/2014: Huzzah for another Noragami OAD as we await a possible sequel announcement. This one will adapt the “popular flower-viewing arc”, according to the tagline.
Mushibugyou (OVA) – 7/18/2014: One of the real underrated shows of 2013, Mushibugyou was a rock-solid straight-up shounen adaptation with a fantastic cast and soundtrack. This OVA is set in Edo, where Jinbei takes a boy named Torakichi under his wing and trains him in the way of the samurai.
Ano Natsu de Matteru (OVA) – TBA: This is definitely the headline of the OVA calendar for me. Ano Natsu cracked my Top 10 list in a very strong 2012, giving us one of the best romantic comedies of recent vintage. Nagai Tatsuyuki (the best romcom director in anime) and Kuroda Yousuke are back for this special, which will be released with the Blu-ray box set. Nothing is known about the plot yet, but I’m happy to have whatever Ano Natsu I can get – the only disappointment is that the big news ended up being an OVA rather than a new season.
Theatrical: Summer is usually loaded with big-name theatrical anime, but it’s a quieter docket than usual this year.
Ghost in the Shell ARISE – border:3 Ghost Tears – 6/28/2014: The ARISE franchise continues its endless assault on theaters.
Omoide no Marnie – 7/19/2014: The first big-screen release of the post Miyazaki Hayao/Takahata Isao era at Studio Ghibli is an adaptation of English writer Joan G. Robinson’s novel, a ghost story (wistful rather than scary) set in an English country house. Karigurashi no Arrietty director Yonebayashi Hiromasa returns here, and he arguably represents the best candidate of this generation to step up as a frontline director (we’ll know more about Miyazaki Goro’s prospects after Sanzoku no Musume Rounya airs this fall) based on the excellent Arrietty.
Uchuu Kyoudai: Number Zero – 8/9/2014: Mangaka Koyama Chuuya put his blockbuster manga on hiatus to write the screenplay for this prequel, which will focus on “the origin of the dream”. There may be some time spent on the Nanba brothers’ childhood, but there’s seemingly also a focus on the Jay brothers, and on the tragedy that claimed the life of Brian. The TV series certainly had some peaks and valleys, but at its best was one of the most emotionally complex and powerful anime of recent years, one that really looks at the meaning of life. It’s a powerhouse in Japan, with high-grossing live-action films, strong TV ratings and huge manga sales figures, but a theatrical anime is surely the Holy Grail for fans of the series. This film should be a good one, and it seems certain that the anime will return to television in a couple of years.