My early take on Summer 2015? With apologies to Marty Feldman, “Could be worse.”
Spring has turned out to be pretty good, though not the breakthrough season anime has been hungrily searching for since 2012. The top tier mostly held up their end, Kekkai Sensei comfortably exceeded expectations, and there have been a couple of pleasant surprises – though no true sleepers. Summer, though, is usually the dog days for anime – but on the bright side, at least there’s no new Dog Days this season.
Summer is typically one of the down seasons for anime, along with winter, though there have been exceptions – it was clearly the best season in 2013 (though that’s the only time I’ve ever seen that happen). There are fewer series to begin with, and they tend to run towards the safe and trendy. By that standard, this summer looks neither exceptionally strong or awful on paper – it’s an anime summer. But going based just on instinct rather than hard evidence, my inkling is that it might end up being somewhat better than expected.
What stands out? The sequels look pretty good, especially another cour of Working (the final one). Summer tends to be heavily comedy-centric but the genre balance is pretty even this year. As a positive I’d note that for the second straight season the percentage of manga to LN adaptations (by my count there are only six of the latter) seems pretty high, which is certainly a positive trend – though the quality of manga being chosen for adaptation seems to be slipping.
In addition to Working, the headliner for me isprobably Akagami no Shirayuki-hime, which continues a welcome comeback for shoujo fantasy. Ushio to Tora marks an interesting choice for a throwback adaptation out of the blue, with an outstanding staff assembled at MAPPA. One series generating a lot of buzz in Kangoku Gakuen Prison School, which I have no idea what to make of until I see an episode or two. There’s not much sci-fi out there – I don’t see a single traditional mecha series (and where is Sunrise?) – which I suppose is a sign that the sci-fi revival boom has largely subsided.
I suspect things are going to clarify themselves pretty quickly this summer – there aren’t that many new series to begin with, and the pool of shows with real potential is a shallow one. As always, please vote for your most anticipated series in the sidebar poll!
With that, to the previews:
Chaos Dragon: Sekiryuu Senyaku – Silver Link
Director: Matsune Masato
Writer: Aikawa Shou, Ukyou Kodachi
Schedule: Premieres Thursday 07/02, 22:30 – Tokyo MX
First Look: This one is sort of interesting for its unusual genesis if nothing else – it’s an RPG adaptation based on the “role-playing sessions” of five prominent game designers (including Urobuchi Gen, Narita Ryohgo and Nasu Kinoko). I’m also a fan of Aikawa Shou (Eureka Seven AO, UN-GO), which doesn’t hurt. Plot-wise Chaos Dragon looks like a pretty vanilla fantasy RPG, with two countries tearing the future apart with their warfare, sorcerers, and the titular dragons. In a strong spring or fall this likely wouldn’t make the preview, but that’s obviously not what this season is.
Classroom☆Crisis – Lay-duce
Director: Nagasaki Kenji
Writer: Maruto Fumiaki
Schedule: Premieres Friday, 07/03, 25:55 – TBS
First Look: One of a decent-size slate of original series this season, Gundam Build Fighters’ Nagasaki-sensei is at the helm for the little-known studio Lay-duce. The bigger name here, however, is White Album’s Maruto Fumiaki – though I found his Saekano singularly unimpressive. On paper this series has potential – it’s supposedly a bittersweet comedy about high-schoolers learning about the world of work, set in the near future. There’s enough here for me to be at least a little intrigued, though Classroom Crisis falls solidly in the crapshoot category.
God Eater – ufotable
Director: Hirao Takayuki
Schedule: Premieres Sunday, 07/05, 22:30 – Tokyo MX
First Look: ufotable offers up another game adaptation, though it’s nice to see them branching out from the “Fate” universe. It’s another show set in an apocalyptic near future (2071), this time one where mysterious God/Monsters called “Akagami” are decimating humanity. Well, you just know there’s going to be an organization set up to fight them and that adolescents are going to be the vanguard. With ufotable it’s pretty much a given that God Eater is going to be pretty – whether it has the substance to stick I have no idea. There’s no one especially notable in the staff that might offer up clues, so this one is a studio-based shot in the dark.
Jitsu wa Watashi wa – TMS
Director: Yamamoto Yasutaka
Writer: Yamashita Kenichi
Schedule: Premieres Monday, 07/06, 25:35 – TV Tokyo
First Look: Director Yamamoto-san showed a pretty decent touch with comedy in Servant x Service and Shinryaku!? Ika Musume, and Matsuda Eiji’s manga seems modestly well-regarded. We’ve certainly had more than our fill of vampire romantic comedies, though. This one is about a high-schooler whose crush just happens to be a vampire – and he just happens to be a person incapable of lying (conveniently). Could be incredibly stupid, but I get a very mild sleeper vibe off this one.
Ranpo Kitan: Game of Laplace – Lerche
Director: Kishi Seiji
Writer: Uezu Makoto
Schedule: Premieres Thursday, 07/03, 24:55 – Fuji TV
First Look: NoitaminA’s sole effort of the season looks fairly interesting. It’s a first-time pairing with the Kishi/Uezu team and Lerche, an adaptation (very loose, presumably) of the horror/mystery novels of Edogawa Ranpo, who died in 1965 and was considered the father of Japanese detective fiction. His main hero, Akechi Kogorou, is a Holmesian figure who’s a mainstay in Japanese culture.
As for the anime, Akechi (played by Sakurai Takahiro, which seems good casting) is apparently a supporting character. The main cast is the “Boys Detective Club” – a group of middle-schoolers who were something akin to the Baker Street Irregulars in the novels. I see a good deal of potential here, something worthy of the name “NoitaminA”, but Kishi and Uezu – who I usually quite like – seem like a bit of an odd fit to me. I have concerns, but this is certainly one of my more anticipated series of the season.
Durarara!!x2 Ten – Studo Shuka
Director: Omori Takehiro
Writer: Takagi Noboru
Schedule: Premieres Friday, 07/04, 23:30 – Tokyo MX
First Look: Durarara returns for the second of its three-cour revival. Something of the magic was gone for me with the first – the experience just wasn’t the same as the original, and I was apparently not the only one to feel that way if the greatly-reduced disc sales are to be believed. I’m not sure what changed – DRRR, me, or anime itself, or indeed a combination of the three – but I still have affection for this series and I hope the second cour recaptures some of the sizzle.
Joukamachi no Dandelion – Production IMS
Director: Akitaya Noriaki
Writer: Yoshida Reiko
Schedule: Premieres Wednesday, 207/02, 26:16 – TBS
First Look: Sleeper picks can be funny things. I’ve had a strong vibe since the very first preview images that Joukamachi no Dandelion was more than met the eye. I know nothing of the source material, and the synopsis doesn’t sound especially clever or memorable. But I can’t shake the feeling that this series could be really good. The last time I had a similar experience was with Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita, and that certainly worked out – though the creator had a much more established track record.
There is an element of “so stupid it must be smart” to the premise. Nine siblings with superpowers share a house monitored by 200 surveillance cameras – in place because the populace will eventually vote one of the nine to be the next king (replacing their father). About the only thing I can quantify is that I do like the art and character designs, and in Akitaya (Bakuman) and Yoshida the main staff is experienced and capable. I’m going to be disappointed to an irrational degree if this turns out to be run-of-the-mill feed corn, and I have no firm reason to believe it won’t – except I do believe. We shall see…
Aoharu x Kikanjuu – Brains Base
Director: Nakano Hideaki
Writer: Konuta Kenji
Schedule: Premieres Wednesday, 07/02, 25:46 – TBS
First Look: Two things draw me to Aoharu x Kikanjuu – it sounds agreeably weird, and it’s Brains Base. I stubbornly love this studio, and I’m hoping they can continue to thrive even after losing many of their top staff (Kyoukai no Rinne is a good sign). As for the weird part, the series is about a girl posing as a boy who gets drawn into the world of survival games. OK, that’s not standard issue anime material at the very least. Could this be terrible? Oh, hell yes. But I like weird, and Konuta Kenji’s track record with adaptations is a darn good one.
Gatchaman Crowds Insight – Tatsunoko
Director: Nakamura Kenji
Writer: Oono Toshiya
Schedule: Premieres Saturday, 07/05, 25:55 – Nihon TV
Episodes: 1 Cour
First Look: I’m not sure I want to live in a world where Nakamura and Oono team up for Tsuritama and Gatchaman Crowds, and Gatchaman is the one that sells more discs and gets a second season. But that’s exactly the sort of world anime is and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it. I didn’t hate Crowds (only the main character, one of the worst protagonists in anime history) but it sure disappointed the hell out of me. There were moments of brilliance – how could there not be, with this team? – and a bravura performance by Miyano Mamoru. But the show itself was sloppy, ill-conceived and undisciplined both in writing and production.
So why am I back? It’s Nakamura and Oono – I have no choice. I hold out some hope that the additional lead time for Insight (it seemed as if Gatchaman was greenlit quite late in the game and never caught up) will allow them to tighten the ship, and get much more out of their premise. Hajime is never going to get better – that’s a lost cause, but I can live with her if the rest of the series showcases the creators back on-form.
Gangsta – Manglobe
Director: Murase Shukou
Writer: Inotsumi Shinichi
Schedule: Premieres Tuesday, 07/01, 26:44 – ABC
First Look: Gangsta is another inhabitant of the top tier for summer, expectations-wise. Kohske’s manga is widely regarded as excellent (from what I’ve read, I agree), Inotsumi is fresh off writing the Akatsuki no Yona adaptation, and director Murase has quite a substantial resume, including the likes of Ergo Proxy. As far as Manglobe is concerned they may be commercially cursed, but I quite like a lot of their work – they take chances with edgy material, and Gangsta is no exception.
This is not a soft and fuzzy story. The focus is on mobsters, prostitutes and crooked cops – and the two protagonists are “Handymen” who take the jobs even the other scum don’t want to dirty their hands with. But there is balance here, and a well-rounded story to be told – Gangsta is not pure pulp by any means. Given Manglobe’s track record and that of the top staff, there’s no reason to suspect this won’t be one of the better series of the season.
Charlotte – P.A. Works
Director: Asai Yoshiyuki
Writer: Maeda Jun
Schedule: July 2015, Tokyo MX
First Look: P.A. Works is a bit hit-and-miss with me, though I almost always love what they do visually. Likewise, I enjoy a lot of Maeda Jun’s work, though by no means all of it. But their last collaboration (Angel Beats) was hands down my least favorite P.A. Works show ever. We don’t know too much about the plot of Charlotte except that it’s about the trials and tribulations of esper kids whose powers develop in puberty, and with Maeda involved music is sure to play a central role, but my hope is that it’s less florid and histrionic than Angel Beats (well – it would be impossible not to be).
Working!!! – A-1 Pictures
Director: Kamakura Yumi
Writer: Yoshioka Takao
Schedule: Premieres Friday, 07/04, 24:30 – Tokyo MX
First Look: As far as anime goes, it just doesn’t get much more reliable than Working. The sales are consistent (and very high), the humor endearing, and the overall package one of the best character-driven comedies in anime. About the only things that change with A-1 Pictures’ flagship comedy are the punctuation and some of the staff.
Now, some five years on from the original adaptation, the Working saga is set to conclude with this third series. This time we have a new director (though that was the case with Working’!! as well), but I’m honestly not expecting any significant decline in quality. There are elements of the humor that work less well than others for me – the main romance between Souta and Mahiru being one of them – but the overall ensemble is one of the best in anime comedy, and the writing almost always snappy and smart.
To LOVE-Ru Darkness 2nd – Xebec
Director: Ootsuki Atsushi
Schedule: Premieres Sunday, 07/06, 24:00 – BS11
First Look: Nah, I’m not going to blog it – but yeah, I’ll probably watch. For what it is, TLR is actually pretty respectable – it’s unapologetically trashy and smutty, about as close as mainstream TV anime gets to hentai without actually crossing over. I like that it doesn’t pretend to be more than it is, and manages to be somewhat entertaining most of the time.
Ushio to Tora – MAPPA
Director: Nishimura Satoshi
Writer: Inoue Toshiki
Schedule: Premieres Thursday, 07/03 22:30 – Tokyo MX
Episodes: Three Cour (Winter Hiatus)
First Look: Here’s another oddball that I’m really looking forward to, an adaptation of a fairly legendary 25 year-old manga by Fujita Kazuhiro. I tend to like these left field series that make you wonder just what the heck the production committee was thinking, and this one has a pretty interesting staff – mostly big names from the glory days at Madhouse. The manga has already had a 10-episode OVA that was released while the series was still ongoing.
Story-wise, Ushio to Tora is a fantasy about the son of a Shinto shrine that’s perpetually accompanied by a tiger-like creature he’s forced to free from the seal his ancestor placed on it 500 years earlier. There is a bit of Inuyasha (which this series predates by six years) in that premise, but the tone here is quite different – it’s definitely a period piece that very much feels like it’s part of another era, and I wonder if it’ll find any sort of audience.
Kangoku Gakuen: Prison School – J.C. Staff
Director: Mizushima Tsutomu
Writer: Yokote Michiko
Schedule: Premieres Thursday, 07/10, 25:05 – Tokyo MX
First Look: Of all the new series airing this summer, Prison School has me most at a loss – I have no idea what to make of it. The premise is so ridiculously offensive that you almost think it has to be a parody of some of the exasperating trends in anime today, but that’s certainly not how it’s universally perceived. The manga is generally well-regarded for what that’s worth.
That premise – five boys admitted into a prestigious all-girls school only to be systematically tortured and humiliated – is pretty hard to take at face value. You’re tempted to say Mizushima wouldn’t attach himself to anything really vile, but this is the guy who directed Blood-C. In short, I’m flummoxed – curious, yes, but mighty apprehensive too. I would expect a call one way or the other to be made pretty quick with this one.
Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – BONES
Director: Ando Masahiro
Writer: Akao Deko
Schedule: Premieres Sunday, 07/06, 24:00 – Tokyo MX
Episodes: Two Split Cours
First Look: And then, by contrast, we have maybe the safest bet of the season. I don’t know how this one got away from Pierrot, but Akagami no Shirayuki-hime is in good hands with BONES and Ando-sensei, who does wonderfully with sweep and scale (his work with Zetsuen no Tempest was exemplary and cinematic). The rest of the staff is excellent as well. Given that shoujo fantasy has provided some of the best anime of the last few seasons and this series is considered among the best manga in the genre, there’s just not much reason to expect anything but one of the best shows of the season.
The story is a very loose takeoff on Snow White with a distinctly Japanese accent, sporting a very solid romance angle and unusually tight and logical plotting. There’s a bit of The Princess Bride here, both in premise (a young girl in love with a commoner but pursued by a prince) and in the tenor of the wit. The only cautionary note, really, is that there’s been no announcement as to series length and the manga is ongoing. It’s already a pretty decent seller, and it’s hard to say just what the production committee will be looking for here – as usual with shoujo disc sales will likely be tepid, and it may very well be that the adaptation is largely a commercial for the manga. And that could leave us with a repeat of the Akatsuki no Yona limbo – an anime that stops in the middle of the story, with no firm signs of a continuation. But as always, the best thing is to enjoy and appreciate whatever we get – this should be one of the best shows of the season.
Will Definitely Blog: Ranpo Kitan: Game of Laplace, Gangsta, Working!!!, Ushio to Tora, Akagami no Shirayuki-hime. That’s a pretty high number as a percentage of the smallish schedule, but this seems to be a season with a pretty clear divide between the haves and the have-nots.
Sleeper Candidates: Joukamachi no Dandelion (strong), Aoharu x Kikanjuu, Jitsu wa Watashi wa (very mild).
OVA/Movie: It’s getting harder and harder to maintain much interest in the OVA segment, unfortunately. The decline of true fansub groups has largely rendered OVAs and OADs for all but the most popular mainstream titles off-limits for anyone who can’t watch them raw. But even with that said, this isn’t an especially impressive calendar by any measure.
Mahou × Shounen × Days!!!!! (OAD) – 6/24/2015: Is Mahou Shounen parody becoming a thing? Hot on the heels of the successful Binan Koukou Chikyuu Bouei-bu Love! comes this multimedia project that’s starting with a drama CD and short OAD. There are a few interesting folks involved (novelist Korumono Migiwa is writing) and the premise (five underachieving throne candidates from a magical kingdom are forced to do daily good deeds until they grow up, and if their transformation sequences aren’t synched up they get stuck naked) sounds agreeably silly.
Durarara!!x2 Shou: Watashi no Kokoro wa Nabe Moyou (OAD) – 7/22/2015: DRRR (not content with three cours of regular anime) serves up a special “Episode 4.5”. It adapts one of Narita Ryohgo’s side stories.
Hoozuki no Reitetsu (OVA) – 8/21/2015: The second OVA from Hoozuki no Reitetsu. Of course, no one has subbed the first one – and considering it was the sales leader of Winter 2014 in a walk, that’s hard to believe. I’m baffled, too, that we haven’t seen a S2 announcement for this series – I can only assume it’s coming eventually, but I’m not taking anything for granted.
Theatrical: Happily there are some exceedingly interesting big-screen releases to look forward to, as there usually are in the summer. That includes Hosoda Mamrou’s new film, and the release of one of those is always a milestone event in anime.
Taifuu no Noruda – 6/05/2015: Already released theatrically, this effort from the relatively unknown Studio Colorado boasts impressive visuals and an interesting storyline, middle school drama with a possible fantasy element. There’s a bit of a Ghibli look to Taifuu no Noruda, not surprising as director Arai Koujirou is a veteran of that studio. There’s certainly a space in the market for this sort of film in Ghibli’s absence – hopefully it’s up to the challenge.
Gekijouban Yowamushi Pedal – 8/28/15: While we wait for a third season of the massively popular cycling series, mangaka Watanabe Wataru has penned an original film for release this August. Details are still relatively sketchy, but it’s set after the Inter-High and seems to prominently feature Onoda and Makishima, as well as a new character played by Miyano Mamoru. Watanabe-sensei and Yowapeda are – like Onoda – proof that sometimes nice guys do finish first.
Bakemono no Ko – 7/11/15: With the retirement of Miyazaki Hayao and (presumably) Takahata Isao, there’s no bigger name in theatrical anime than Hosoda Mamoru. His films are both commercially successful and (deservedly) loved by critics, and there’s a reason for that – Hosoda-sensei has massive gifts as a storyteller and a visual artist. He hasn’t asked for the responsibility of being the face of anime in the post-Ghibli era, but to some extent that mantle may be thrust upon him whether he wants it or not.
As such, when he releases a new film every few years anime fans all over the world watch with rapt attention. Bakemono no Ko looks like another winner – it’s the story of an orphaned human boy from Shibuya who becomes lost in the bakemono world, and is taken in by beast who’s also a master of martial arts. The only downside for me is that Hosoda has dispensed with his (and Ghibli’s) usual practice of casting actual children for the main child roles, which could undercut the film’s sense of realism a bit.