Old Mother Hubbard’s got nothing on fans of good anime this season.
Pre-season expectations aren’t always met by performance. And thank goodness for that, because a pretty mediocre 2014 doesn’t look as if it’s going to be bailed out by its final slate of shows.
Is Fall 2014 the worst season – on paper – since I’ve been an anime fan? Probably not – but I can say for sure it’s the worst since I’ve been doing season previews. But as they say, they don’t play the games on paper. And once you dig beneath the unusually large pile of LN adaptations and moe shows and hit the substrata, there are a few series that seem to pack the potential to be not just watchable, but among the best series of the year.
We can only hope.
If there’s one thing that I find most distressing about the current trends in anime, it’s the decline in quality of original series. I once looked to originals as the shining hope of an anime schedule, and not all that long ago. But over the last several seasons they’ve been getting more and more generic, more and more unabashedly patronizing. What we’re seeing is the transition of original anime from a showcase for top creative talent to an opportunity for production committees to design shows from scratch to try and reach into the pockets of the niche audiences that keep them in business. When the marketing department starts to choose the creative direction, you’re not far away from the order to abandon ship.
As such, rather than from original series we have to look to manga adaptions almost exclusively (because novel adaptations are unicorns and LN adaptations are rarely more than watchable) if we hope to get real quality on a schedule. Happily there are two of them this Fall, Kiseijuu (Parasyte) and Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso, which not only have the potential for greatness but a committed two cours to try and achieve it (a rarity indeed in this day and age). We also have a couple of sequels of manga adaptions that are sure to deliver, Yowamushi Pedal: Grande Road and the second season of the sublime and timeless Mushishi. So all is not lost, even if the light at the end of the tunnel might be an oncoming train.
As for trends, apart from the aforementioned decline in the ambition of original series what I see more than anything is a larger than ever list of shows that aren’t even in the running for coverage – as seasons go, this one looks to be very top-heavy. There are a few elites, a bunch of non-starters, and very few shows that seem destined for the “good” to “very good” range or that have obvious sleeper potential. I managed to find 18 shows I could muster the interest to preview, which isn’t many for a fall season, and there are some genuine reaches on that list. Genre-wise, there are no obvious trends apart from the growing dominance of harem LN adaptations and cute girls in various guises shows – sports has nothing new on offer, sci-fi and mecha continues to carve out about its average slice of the pie, and one or two shoujo and horror series manage to claw their way onto the docket.
In personal terms, look for this to be a light season for me, as I need to dedicate myself fully to pursuing visa-sponsoring employment in Japan (so perhaps it’s not the worst time for a weak season). My threshold for coverage is going to be very, very high.
As always, please vote for your most anticipated series in the sidebar poll!
With that, to the previews:
Amagi Brilliant Park – Kyoto Animation
Director: Takemoto Yasuhiro
Writer: Shimo Fumihiko
Schedule: Thursday 26:04, Tokyo MX – Premières 10/02/14
First Look: Frankly, there hasn’t been much from Kyoto Animation since Hyouka that inspires a lot of confidence in me. And I’m not especially drawn in by the premise of this series, which involves trying to draw 100,000 visitors to an old amusement park to prevent its closure. But Amagi Brilliant Park is a reunion of the writer, adapter and director of Full Metal Panic, which is one of KyoAni’s less formulaic shows, and creator Gatoh Shoji also handled series composition for the often-sublime Hyouka (and the novels’ content was changed quite dramatically). Good writers make good anime, generally speaking, and you know the production values are going to be at least above-average. I’m hopeful there’s more here than meets the eye.
Nanatsu no Taizai – A-1 Pictures
Director: Okamura Tensai
Writer: Suga Shoutarou
Schedule: Sunday, 17:00, MBS/TBS – Premières 10/05/2014
First Look: This is one of those series that will almost surely be pretty good, but is unlikely to be special. Suzuki Nakaba’s Weekly Shounen manga is in the hands of a very experienced writer and director with fine track records (especially Suga) and a competent studio. I’ve read a bit of the manga and I find it to entertaining and fairly witty, if totally unexceptional, and there’s not much reason to expect the anime to be different. It’s the story of the daughter of an assassinated king who seeks the help of the “Seven Deadly Sins” in taking back the kingdom from the usurping Holy Knights. It is quite early for an anime (the manga is just two years old) and I’m not especially fond of the casting apart from rising star Sora Amamiya as Elizabeth, the daughter. But if this isn’t a solid weekly watch, I’ll be quite surprised.
Gundam Build Fighters Try – Sunrise
Director: Watada Shinya
Writer: Kuroda Yousuke
Schedule: Wednesday, 18:00, TV Tokyo – Premières 10/08/14
First Look: Gundam Build Fighters ended up being one of the pleasant surprises of 2014. It’s not as if the show was anything great, but it was a lot of fun – certainly the funniest Gundam series I’ve seen – and steadfastly refused to take itself at all seriously. It also featured one of the all-time great MILF characters in anime history, who practically had one of the halls at Comiket all to herself. Changing the entire cast and placing the sequel 7 years later is a bit of a gamble, but with Kuroda-sensei writing again “Try” is a pretty good bet to recapture most of the irreverent fun of the original. I sort of regretted not blogging GBF – we’ll see how it goes with “Try”.
Gundam G no Reconquista – Sunrise
Director: Tomino Yoshiyuki
Writer: Tomino Yoshiyuki/Yatate Hajime
Schedule: Thursday, 24:00, MBS – Premières 10/02/14
Episodes: Two Cour
First Look: It’s a huge season for Gundam, in recognition of the 35th Anniversary of the franchise. In addition to the above GBF sequel, we’re getting Reconquista in G – and no question, this is a big deal for hardcore fans. Gundam creator Tomino is returning to direct (and seemingly piss off as many people with rude comments as possible),and legendary Eureka Seven character designer Yoshida Kenichi is on-board. Even for a Gundam dilettante like me, it’s clear this is a big deal.
The first three episodes of Reconquista have actually screened in theaters already, though I haven’t heard much feedback apart from praise for the visuals. It would certainly seem this is a priority project for Sunrise, and the premise is classic Gundam, centering around a young cadet and the female space pirate whose “G-Self” mobile suit he defeats in battle. I’m not expert enough to place this series in the Byzantine franchise canon, but it appears to be more closely related to Tomino’s “UC” than any other Gundam series.
World Trigger – Toei
Director: Hongo Mitsuru
Writer: Yoshino Hiroyuki
Schedule: Sunday, 06:30, TV Asahi – Premieres 10/05/2014
First Look: We have not just the creator of Outlaw Star working this season, but the director too – which I suppose is something at least. This Shounen Jump entry is even younger than Nanatsu no Taizai (it premiered in February of 2013) which leads me to believe Shueisha wanted to get an adaptation out of one of their next gen titles and didn’t want to burn their more valuable entries like Shokugeki no Soma too early. World Trigger isn’t exceptionally popular or well-reviewed and my expectations were middling, but when Hongo-sensei was attached and it was revealed that Kawai Kenji would be doing the music, my interest level perked up considerably. The story concerns a group of mysterious alien momnsters called “Neighbors” who mysteriously start showing up through a gate that’s randomly appeared. The main character is a humanoid Neighbor, and the story follows his relationship with those assigned to fight against the invasion. Not a bad concept – we’ll see if this might just be a sleeper.
Psycho-Pass 2 – Production I.G.
Director: Motohiro Katsuyuki/Shiotani Naoyoshi
Writer: Ubukata Tow
Schedule: Thursday, Time TBA, Fuji TV – Premieres 10/2014
First Look: You won’t see Gen Urobuchi’s name anywhere above, and he’s listed only as “Original Creator” for this sequel. Is that good or bad? Tow is an experienced hand, and Psycho-Pass exemplified everything that irritates me about Gen (mainly his inability to finish and his unwillingness to take a side) but it was also his dystopian sensibility that made the original series so interesting. I liked Psycho-Pass but it was on the whole overrated, and certainly not a show that left me thinking it cried out for a sequel – I’ll be watching this one, but my expectations are frankly pretty modest.
Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – A-1 Pictures
Director: Ishiguro Kyouhei
Writer: Takao Yoshioka
Schedule: Thursday, Time TBA, Fuji TV – Premieres 10/2014
First Look: Along with Parasyte, Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso is certainly my top non-sequel pick of the season. On paper there seems to be nothing standing in the way: the source material is a Taisho finalist and Kodansha Award winner that puts one in mind of a middle-school Nodame Cantabile. It’s a NoitaminA that’s been given two cours to tell its story. The director and writer are talented and experienced enough to avoid screwing this up. All signs point to yes.
The devil is in the details, so we’ll see – but this is one of those series that you feel are becoming so rare that it would almost be a tragedy if it wasn’t a masterpiece. The manga is ongoing, which is certainly a cautionary note, but 22 episodes should be enough to do justice to what’s out there. This is a good story – a boy genius pianist who loses his mother and suffers a breakdown rendering him unable to hear his own music, and the girl who draws him back into the world of beauty. To say I have high hopes would be an understatement – if anything it’s a struggle to keep my expectations in-check, because I don’t want to be disappointed if Shigatsu ends up simply being a good series.
Donten ni Warau – Dogakobo
Director: Haraguchi Hiroshi
Writer: Takahashi Yuuya
Schedule: TBA, Nippon TV – Premieres 10/2014
First Look: At first glance nothing much stood out to be about Donten ni Warau, except that it didn’t look exactly like every other anime adaptation. And in this day and age that counts for a lot. Closer examination reveals that the manga is very well-reviewed, and the storyline is quite interesting. It’s the tale of three brothers in the dying days of the Samurai, whose job it is to escort prisoners to an island prison. It’s a shoujo, which might give some clues as to what sort of tone to expect. This one is kind of a mystery to me, but I’m certainly curious to see what it brings to the table.
Kiseijuu: Sei no Kakuritsu – Madhouse
Director: Shmizu Kenichi
Writer: Yoknemura Shouji
Schedule: Thursday, Time TBA, Nippon TV – Premieres 10/09/2014
First Look: At long last Iwaaki Hitoshi’s legendary manga comes to the screen – with both this anime and a live-action film currently in production. One might gripe about it having taken so long, but at least we got here eventually, and this is one of my most anticipated series of the year.
Madhouse seems like the perfect fit for Kiseijuu, and while some manga fans have complained about the designs I think the previews look quite good. I wouldn’t have minded seeing an A-list director rather than a rookie, but apart from that I’m pretty hyped. Parasyte is one of the most creepy and unsettling horror manga out there, a story of parasitic aliens who take over human brains by crawling into their ears or noses while they sleep, and the one that ends up burrowing into the protagonist’s arm instead. It’s a scary and often shocking series, but also sometimes quite funny and always character-driven. With 24 episodes to cover 64 chapters I think Madhouse can do right by Kiseijuu, and this is another one of those shows that almost has to be a classic if this season is going to be a decent one.
Hitsugi no Chaika: Avenging Battle – BONES
Director: Masui Souichi
Writer: Machida Touko
Schedule: Thursday, 25:05, Tokyo MX – Premieres 10/02/2014
Episodes: 1 Cour
First Look: If I were to pick one show in all my blogging career that was most perfectly balanced on the fence, it might be Hitsugi no Chaika. I could never commit to covering or dropping it, and ended up following it to the end of the first season and enjoying it to a reasonable degree. The second will have to be better than the first in order to gain a spot on the blogging schedule, and my experience with these sorts of grey area series is that I tend to lose interest when the sequels come around, but Chaika did end on a modest uptick so perhaps it will be an exception (though as it airs on Thursday this season, the competition is going to be pretty fierce). I like the series for its unpretentiousness and willingness to make the audience be patient – it seems a very atypical LN adaptation in many ways. Hopefully the second cour gives me enough reason to stay with it.
Sora no Method – Studio 3Hz
Director: Sakoi Masayuki
Writer: Hisaya Naoki
Schedule: Sunday, 22:30, Tokyo MX – Premières 10/05/2014
First Look: Why does every show I’m interested in this season seem to be airing on Thursday or Sunday? It may not be a conspiracy but it may as well be.
There’s really one reason why I’m interested in Sora no Method (it’s the product of a new studio, 3Hz), and that’s that it’s the first series in more than a half-decade from former Key head writer Hisaya Naoki, who was the creator of Kanon (for me Key’s finest work) and after Key the hugely underrated Sola. It’s always a bit of a downer when creative heavyweights like Hisaya and Mizushima Tsutomu are reduced to cute girls being cute shows if they want to work, but I’m enough of an admirer of Hisaya-sensei that I’m going to give this series every chance to prove it’s more than it appears to be. The trailer reveals little evidence to that effect, nor does the tagline “The wish of a few girls was realized with a miracle. In the skies above the town, a disc is always there”. But I’ll be repeating the “In Hisaya we trust” mantra as I watch the first couple of episodes in hopeful trepidation.
Akatsuki no Yona – Studio Pierrot
Director: Nagasaki Yukio
Writer: Intosume Shinichi
Schedule: Tuesday, 23:00, AT-X – Premieres 10/07/14
First Look: Wai! A Tuesday series…
Is shoujo fantasy making a comeback? Pierrot – who’ve historically specialized in the sub-genre – gave us the excellent Soredemo Seikai wa Utsukushii in Spring, and they return with this manga adaptation that has my interest piqued. It’s the tale of a pampered princess whose father, the King, is killed by the cousin she’s been in love with since childhood. This is a genre that tends to work pretty well for me generally speaking, and there are a lot of sleeper signs – the manga is extremely well regarded, and rather than being classic shoujo mangaka Kusanagi Mizuho’s art reminds me a lot of Watsuki Nobuhiro’s. Akatsuki no Yona also has the distinction of being quite openly set in Korea, which can be a bit of a problem with the large segment of the fan community and larger Japanese public (though less so in this demographic) that’s unapologetically racist against Koreans. All in all this one sits near the top of my second tier in terms of anticipation.
Ookami Shoujo to Kuto Oni – TYO Animations
Director: Kasai Kenichi
Writer: Hiarayashi Sawako
Schedule: TBA, Tokyo MX – Premieres 10/2014
First Look: Wolf Girl and Black Prince is a much more traditional shoujo, a classic school romance setting with a bad boy male lead. It sounds pretty silly – a girl makes up a fake boyfriend based on a photo, when it turns out the guy in the photo is her classmate she makes him her real fake boyfriend, and while he projects a nice-guy image he turns out to be a mega-sadist. I kind of get the sense this out could either be a real surprise or a complete disaster, depending on how seriously the series takes itself.
Denkigai no Honya-san – Shin-Ei Animation
Director: Sato Masafumi
Writer: Fudeyasu Kazuyuki
Schedule: Thursday, 22:30, Tokyo MX – Premières 10/02/14
First Look: There’s a bit of a Working! vibe to this adaptation of Mizu Asato’s manga, and that’s the peg on which I’m hanging my hopes. The setting is a manga store in an Akihabara-like urban neighborhood, and the hero is a shy young adult who’s just taken his first job with a staff of oddball co-workers. As someone who worked in and managed bookstores I’ve always thought that with their invariably quirky employees and customers this was a natural setting for a manga/anime, and it’s always surprised me that we haven’t seen more of it – and any series featuring working adults is a welcome thing in my book. I can’t vouch for the source material and the staff has no outstanding names, but this is a show I’d really like to see succeed.
First Look: What a delight it is to see Yowamushi Pedal achieve the success it so richly deserves (and I so richly predicted). Not only is Yowapeda itself a terrific series, but its popularity got mangaka Watanabe Wataru’s other manga, Majimoji Rurumo, a wonderful anime this season. Watanabe-sensei is a real talent, a writer of boundless wit and heart, and by all accounts one of the true nice guys in the business.
Content-wise things should be pretty straightforward here – it’s the much-anticipated third day of the Inter-high, which sees first Hakogaku and then Sohoku having clawed their way back to catch Kyoto Fushimi and the Chimera cyclist, Midousuji-kun. We don’t know if this season will also be three cours, but Yowapeda has proved popular enough in terms of disc sales and massive merchandising tie-ins to hope that we might eventually see something close to a complete adaptation of the manga, which is still ongoing. It’s not the staggering monster hit with females that Haikyuu!! and Kurobas have been, but it’s a hit nonetheless – and the sports manga that’s perhaps most effectively crossed over to the new audience while still retaining a sizeable chunk of the old.
Trinity Seven – Seven Arcs
Director: Nishikori Hiroshi
Writer: Yoshino Hiroyuki
Schedule: Tuesday, 25:40, TV Tokyo – Premières 10/07/14
First Look: This manga adaptation is strictly flyer territory based on a pretty good director and the manga’s decent reputation. The story seems very generic – “Black Sun” causes the destruction of the town where the typical teenaged dude lives, hot girl magician appears, and Mad Libs it from there.
Sanzoku no Musume Ronja – Polygon/Ghibli
Director: Miyazaki Goro
Writer: Kawasaki Hiroyuki
Schedule: Saturday, 19:00, NHK-BS – Premières 10/11/14
First Look: Ghibli hasn’t ventured into the weekly TV series realm since forever, and the fact that they’re doing so – and under the direction of Miyazaki Goro no less – should have been cause for celebration. But this is a 100% CGI series by the same studio that’s doing Sidonia no Kishi, and as if that weren’t cause enough to moderate expectations, the recent news regarding Ghibli’s future leaves us with the possibility that this computer-animated series could well be the studio’s final work. And that would be a tragic irony indeed.
Astrid Lindgren’s children’s book series Ronja the Robber’s Daughter is quite beloved, and there’s a good chance that Miyazaki will be able to deliver an entertaining series for kids. But the trailer looks every bit as brutal as one might fear – as with Sidonia the character animation is unspeakable – and seeing Ghibli designs and backgrounds paired with that animation is going to be a disconnect I find very hard to overcome. Irrespective of Ronja I sincerely hope that this isn’t Ghibli’s farewell work, because anime and the world at-large would be diminished by their passing.
First Look: Saving the best for last, we have Mushishi – a gift to anime, and anime’s gift to the world. Timeless, ageless, heartbreaking, fantastic and beautiful – there’s nothing else like it.
It’s hard to imagine anyone will be watching this season without having watched at least the first season of Zoku Shou, so a synopsis seems redundant. It’s remarkable how little Mushishi changed in the eight-and-a-half years it was gone – it returned as if it had never left, as magical and mystical as ever. You’ll rarely see backgrounds this beautiful or writing this subtle and profound, or stories and characters that will stay with you for so long. Mushishi is special, and this season will bring the comprehensive adaptation of Urushibara Yuki’s manga to a close. Artland’s financial adventures may have given it more fits and starts than ideal, but if we get through this cour (and with Artland, it’s never safe to assume) Mushishi will – like Hunter X Hunter – be that exceedingly rare great manga that gets the anime adaptation it deserves.
Will Definitely Blog: Mushishi Zoku Shou, Kiseijuu, Shichigatsu wa Kimi no Uso, Yowamushi Pedal Grande Road. Yep, that’s it – though as usual, there are enough wildcards lurking that even intentionally cutting back my workload, a couple more at least are guaranteed to stick..
Sleeper Candidates: Donten ni Warau, World Trigger, Akatsuki no Yona, Denkigai no Honya-san
OVA/Movie: A decent-sized group of appealing OVA releases are on-top this season. Among the candidates:
Shinryaku!! Ika Musume (OAD) – 9/8/2014: Special episode bundled with Volume 17 of Squid Girl. I adore this series and have from the very beginning, so this is one I’m really looking forward to.
Fantasista Stella (OVA) – 9/18/2014: I’m always interested when a new sports anime pops up, and this OVA for the popular soccer series may be a precursor of a series to follow. I haven’t read Fantasista Stella but what I hear is generally positive.
Gokukoku no Brynhildr (OVA) – 9/24/2014: Ah, Brynhildr. This series was one of the oddballs of 2014, a satire posing as a sci-fi/horror thriller. It ended too soon, forcing a rushed conclusion, but I enjoyed it a lot – and this is the sort of show that generally transitions extremely well to OVA.
Watashi ga Motenai no wa Dou Kangaete mo Omaera ga Warui! (OVA) – 10/22/2014: The definite star of the Fall OVA calendar for me. It seems almost cruel to make fans wait a year after the series finale for an OVA, but I’m certainly glad to have it. Watamote was one of the best series of 2013, as black as comedy gets and painfully true-to-life in it’s depiction of social anxiety and depression. If there were any justice in the world it would have been a hit on disc and earned a sequel, but it hit far too close to home, I suspect. At least the manga is popular…
Kuroshitsuji: Book of Murder (OVA) – 10/25 and 11/15/2014: Fresh from having knocked Circus-hen out of the park, A-1 Pictures gives us a two-episode OVA to cover the next arc in the manga. That seems alarmingly short, but these are apparently screening briefly in theatres, so there’s some speculation that each is 45 minutes long.
Suisei no Gargantia: Meguro Kouro, Haruka (OVA) – 11/21/2014: Two episode OVA (Episode 2 ships in April) introducing a new character. I’m pretty much over this series at this point, but I’ll check these out just in case there’s a surprise hiding here.
Theatrical: Without a doubt the least interesting seasonal theatrical calendar I’ve seen. Makes the TV schedule look like an embarrassment of riches.
Ghost in the Shell ARISE – border:4 Ghost Stands Alone – 9/06/2014: They just never stop, do they Zephyr?
Uchuu Senkan Yamato 2199: Tsuioku no Koukai – 10/11/2014: A recap film, so honestly not much to see here.
Shingeki no Kyoujin Zenpen: Guren no Yumiya – 11/22/2014: See above. That beeping noise is the AoT gravy truck backing into the dock – get used to it because you’ll be hearing it for years at the very least.