Hope can be a scary thing.
It’s been a while since we’ve gone into a season with the sheer volume of material on my radar as Spring 2016. I’m previewing 21 shows and honestly, it could have been more – none of those were reaches by any means. I’m too lazy to go back and check just how long it’s been since I previewed 20+ series, but it wouldn’t shock me if it was all the way back to 2012. This is my first season preview after the move to WordPress, and it definitely looks like a consequential one.
It’s been such a long time since we’ve had a truly stellar anime season that I’ve become quite skeptical by default. Could Spring be the breakthrough – and if it is, will it represent the start of a creative revival or just a blip? Obviously the second question is so conditional that there’s not much point in tackling it now. As for the first, well of course we can’t know before a season begins just how strong it will be. But what do my instincts tell me?
The benchmark for recent anime history, certainly, is Spring 2012 – truly a great season in any era. As much as this coming Spring looks strong, I don’t see it as being on the same level. There isn’t that one Boku Dake ga Inai Machi on the schedule – that series you more or less know is going to be a masterpiece. We don’t have the laundry list of great directors (both Watanabes, Hatakeyama, Nakamura et al) we did then. And as a reflection of the times, fewer of the projected elite series are confirmed multi-cour.
What we do have is sheer volume of interesting prospects (a ton) – the law of averages is our friend. We also have a number of very good sequels (Ushio and Tora, Kyoukai no Rinne, Concrete Revolutio) that seem more or less safe bets. And on a personal level, there are more adaptations of manga I read and enjoy than in any anime season – Boku no Hero Academia, Sakamoto Desu ga?, Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge, even Shounen Maid. So it’s hard to imagine this season won’t at the very least be above-average in terms of good to very good shows.
Thematically, it’s a very sci-fi/fantasy heavy schedule, as usual dominated by manga adaptations but with some interesting originals too (like the P.A. Works 15th Anniversary/Okamura Tensai mecha project). I certainly don’t remember the last time the majority of series on a preview were sci-fi or fantasy (surely, traditionalists are going to find this refreshing). There’s a smattering of other genres and demographics that’s pretty evenly divided, but slice-of-life definitely edges out romance or comedy, at least on paper.
One other note – if you’re a fan of soundtracks, this should be the best season for quite some time – it’s an impressive list of composers, including the great Kawai Kenji.
The sidebar poll is in the usual place – go get it! Without further ado, on to the previews:
Mayoiga – Diomedea
Director: Mizushima Tsutomu
Writer: Okada Mari
Schedule: Premieres Friday 4/01, 22:30
First Look: Mizushima Tsutomu is another notch in Okada Mari’s belt, as they team up on this sci-fi original. I can’t help but think “trainwreck” when I contemplate the pairing of two creatives so given to excess, but it certainly shouldn’t be boring. As usual with originals we don’t have a whole lot of detail on plot – 30 teens head off to a supposedly Utopian village in the mountains that you can bet is harboring a terrible secret. Emotional trauma and cross-dressing is a given.
Uchuu Patrol Luluco – Trigger
Director/Writer: Imaishi Hiroyuki
Schedule: Premieres Friday, 4/01, 22:30
First Look: I’ll come right out and say it – as far as I’m concerned there’s no studio more overrated than Trigger. Their catalogue has ranged from pleasantly safe to abjectly awful. And founder Imaishi Hiroyuki hasn’t done anything really good since Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. But I’m such an unrepentant Gainax fanboy that I still dutifully show up to give every new Imaishi series a shot, and Space Patrol Luluco is only going to be 7 minutes in any case. If nothing else there’s a decent gag involved in the premise – it’s set in a space zone called Ogikubo where humans and aliens live together (Ogikubo is a Tokyo neighborhood filled with foreigners).
Gyakuten Saiban: Sono “Shinjitsu”, Igi Ari! – A-1 Pictures
Director: Watanabe Ayumu
Writer: Tomioka Atsushiro
Schedule: Premieres Saturday, 4/02, 17:30
First Look: The Capcom VN this series is based on is quite famous, and pretty well-regarded to boot. However the previews have been pretty low-rent, and by all accounts Kaji Yuuki is seriously miscast even by Kaji Yuuki standards. Director Watanabe Ayumu (Nazo no Kanojo X, Uchuu Kyoudai) is really the main draw for me. Plot-wise Ace Attorney is pretty much a straight courtroom drama, with a heroic protagonist standing up for innocent clients against a tidal wave of corruption and power.
Boku no Hero Academia – Bones
Writer: Nagasaki Kenji
Schedule: Premieres Sunday, 4/03 – 17:00
Episodes: TBA (likely two-cour)
First Look: If you asked me which series is likely to be the best of the season, intellectually I’d probably say Bones’ other series Bungou Stray Dogs or Joker Game. But if you wanted to know which show I’m most looking forward to, it’d probably be Boku no Hero Academia. This is a series for which I feel enormous affection, even as I recognize its flaws. I’ve said it before, but when I read BnHA I find myself thinking that it’s the next series Horikoshi Kouhei writes that’s going to be a masterpiece – this one still shows the rough edges of youth.
But that’s also one of Boku’s great strengths – this is a pure shounen in the best sense of the word, flush with the vigor and awkwardness of youth. When the announcement was made that it would be Bones doing the adaptation, fans let out a collective sigh of relief – this series is likely to become a monster hit as long as it isn’t screwed up. BnHA is a very smart and very Japanese take on American superhero comics, featuring a ridiculously likeable young hero in Midorikawa Izuku and a great cast of students, teachers and villains (including the brilliantly-drawn mentor, All Might). It might not end up as a masterpiece, but it’s virtually certain to be immensely entertaining.
12-sai: Chicchana Mune no Tokimeki – OLM
Director: Taichuu Seiki
Writer: Tsubota Fumi
Schedule: Premieres Monday, 4/04 – 19:30
First Look: There have already been a few bites of the apple with Maita Nao’s coming-of-age manga 12-sai in OVA form, and they don’t seem to have been terribly well-received. But I kind of get sleeper vibes with Oriental Light and Magic’s TV version, despite a lack of big names in the staff list. The manga is highly thought of, and there aren’t many good series that seriously tackle the problems of pre-teens. The reason is obvious – my good friend in film publicity once told me “The hardest movie to market is one that’s about kids but aimed at adults”. Nevertheless these kinds of stories can be really powerful, and I think 12-sai has just been waiting for the right treatment – I just have no idea if this is it.
Super Lovers – DEEN
Director: Ishihara Shinji
Writer: Nakamura Yoshiko
Schedule: Premieres Wednesday, 4/06, 23:30
First Look: There are some definite yellow flags with this shounen-ai from DEEN and director Ishihara Shinji. In the first place, the age difference between the primary characters – a young man and his adoptive brother – is alarmingly large. But Ishihara is a pretty solid mainstream director and the manga is considered to be one of the very best in its demographic, so my assumption is that things stay at least modestly tasteful. I also quite liked mangaka Abe Miyuki’s rather underrated Hakkenden, at least in anime form.
Kyoukai no Rinne Second Season – Brains Base
Director: Sugawara Seiki
Writer: Yokote Michiko
Schedule: Premieres Saturday, 4/09, 17:30
First Look:I thought the first season of Takahashi Rumiko’s Kyoukai no Rinne was one of the funniest and most under-appreciated shows of 2015. The manga is decent, but the comedy works much better in anime form – partly thanks to a terrific cast, and party to the medium itself. This is old-school deadpan anime humor at its most appealing, and the second season is about as safe a bet as 2016 has to offer.
Big Order – Asread
Director: Kamanaka Nobuharu
Writer: Takayama Katsuhiko
Schedule: Premieres Friday, 4/15, 25:40
First Look: Big Order is flying in a bit under the radar. But as the product of Mirai Nikki mangaka Esuno Sakae’s pen, it’s a series worth your attention. This time around it’s a story of a group of espers called “Order Users” who have the power to grant their own wishes, and a protagonist who wished for the destruction of the world as a child.
In my view Big Order is not quite as good as Mirai Nikki (which I thought was a near-masterpiece that was mistakenly labeled as an entertaining pulp story but was actually a brilliant satire, and re-imagining of Evangelion), but it’s still damn good. I like Esuno’s fearless, vibrant writing style, and Takayama-sensei also adapted Mirai Nikki. Asread’s production values will never wow you, but they have a track record of very faithful and smart manga adaptations. Sleeper.
Koetsujou no Kabaneri – Wit
Director: Araki Tetsurou
Writer: Okouchi Ichiro
Schedule: Premieres Thursday, 4/07, 25:55
First Look: Two masters of excess – Shingeki no Kyoujin and Death Note director Araki and Code Geass/Kakumeki Valvrave writer Okouchi – get together for this sci-fi original from Wit (Hoozuki second season when?). The story surrounds a monster who can turn humans into undead monsters with its bite, and cannot be killed unless its iron-clad heart is pierced.
It seems pretty much a given with this staff that Koutetsujou no Kabaneri is going to be violent and silly, but they’re talented enough to give this show some potential. Also of note is that Ushio & Tora star Hatanaka Tasaku is getting his second main role here as protagonist Ikoma, and he’s clearly a younger voice talent worth keeping an eye on. It’s also worth noting that Kabaneri has been licensed for streaming by Amazon Prime – the start of a partnership with anime that will include future NoitaminA releases, and bears close watching – this could potentially be a game-changing event for anime, for better or worse.
Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge – Silver Link
Director: Kawatsura Shinya
Writer: Omode Akemi
Schedule: Premieres Saturday, 4/09, 22:00
First Look: I would call Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge a sleeper, but I think that’s beneath even me. In all seriousness, this is a series I expect to be quietly excellent, because the manga is exceptionally charming and funny in a wistful and cheeky way. I’m not always a fan of Silver Link, but their very particular style is all about finding the right fit – and I think this is a pretty good fit.
This is a comedy you’ll want to be patient with, because it’s not a series that will attack you with over-the-top gags and slapstick. There’s a lot of character-driven humor, slow builds and some actual warmth too. Most of the jokes are of the type that get funnier if you think about them for a few moments, too. Also, Tanaka-kun has one of the best bromances in manga and an actual non-annoying imouto going for it. Sleeper or not, it should be a keeper.
Concrete Revolutio: Choujin Gensou – The Last Song – Bones
Director: Mizushima Seiji
Writer: Aikawa Shou
Schedule: Premieres Sunday, 4/03, 23:00
Episodes: TBA (1 cour)
First Look: What a season this looks to be for Bones. With Concrete Revolutio, Boku no Hero Academia and Bungou Stray Dogs they have a chance to have three of the best shows of 2016 airing simultaneously. They’re on-track for one of the best studio years ever, and Spring is definitely the lynchpin.
My affection with this weird, dense and challenging series grew slowly but by the time the first cour ended it was one of my favorites of Fall 2015 (thank goodness Mizushima-sensei makes more interesting shows than his Shirobako avatar does). As with many Aikawa-penned shows it’s heavily political, with a “pox on all your houses” worldview. The cast is interesting, the visuals striking, and as a comprehensive mash-up of sci-fi and fantasy genres Concrete Revolutio is always fascinating, even when it’s occasionally a mess.
Kuromukuro – P.A. Works
Director: Okamura Tensai
Writer: Higaki Ryou
Schedule: Premieres Thursday, 4/07, 22:00
First Look: My affection for P.A. Works has waned quite a bit over the last couple of years. They seem to have embraced their reputation (which used to be undeserved, in my opinion) as a poor man’s Kyoto Animation a little too much. As a result they’ve become quite predictable, pandering to those they clearly see as having a certain expectation about their work. The last several PAW shows have ranged from indifferent to downright awful.
Kuromukuro does, at least, seem to have aspirations of being a mold-breaker. Certainly the idea of a P.A. Works mecha series is kind of exciting on a certain level, and Okamura-sensei (Darker than Black, Ao no Exorcist, Wolf’s Rain) is a very prestigious director and he has a strong staff working with him. The plot seems pretty standard – an ancient magical artifact is discovered during Kurobe Village dam construction, and the children of the researchers all attend school together when the weird stuff starts to happen. But execution here could be the difference-maker, and PAW clearly views this as a prestige series for them. Way too important not to pay close attention to.
Kiznavier – Trigger
Director: Kobayashi Hiroshi
Writer: Okada Mari
Schedule: Premieres Saturday, 4/09, 23:30
First Look: See Luluco for my feelings on Trigger, and why I’m giving this series a shot too. It’s interesting that Imaishi would choose to direct a comic short over what would appear to be Trigger’s main show of the Spring, a full-length sci-fi original written by the always-marketable Okada. Setting aside admittedly interesting speculation about why that might be, what Okada has come up with here is a future where the “Kizuna” system exists to promote world peace by distributing the damage of any wound suffered by someone part of Kizuna to everyone that’s a part of it. Who knows? Sci-fi Okada isn’t generally all that successful IMHO, but you never know.
Ushio to Tora Second Season – MAPPA
Director: Nishimura Satoshi
Writer: Inoue Toshiki
Schedule: Premieres Friday, 4/01, 22:30
First Look: In a season that looks strong for sequels (as it does generally) UshiTora might just be the one I’m most looking forward to. There’s no true season break here, just a split between the second and third cours, so no real reason to suspect this adaptation of Fujita Kazuhiro’s classic shounen manga will be any less old-school terrific.
If that turns out to be the case this series has a shot to be in the conversation for the 2016 Top 10 list – MAPPA (as you’d expect) is doing right by this one. They’ve wisely made no attempt to contemporize the material, but rather celebrated it in all its GAR 80’s glory. What they have done is made significant cuts to the manga (with the author’s participation) in order to fit the entire series into 39 episodes. That didn’t cause a problem for me in the first two cours – hopefully that continues to be the case.
Endride – Brain’s Base
Director: Gotou Keiji
Writer: Machida Touko
Schedule: Premieres Saturday, 4/02, 25:55
First Look:You don’t see original Sci-fi/fantasy anime from Brain’s Base every season, that’s for sure. And this one has a pretty solid staff, including character designs from no less than Rurouni Kenshin’s Watsuki Nobuhiro and music by Tanaka Kouhei. Endride looks like a riff on the same alternate universe theme as stuff like Arata Kangatari, which is certainly familiar ground for anime. But it’s nice to see Brain’s Base regrouping in the aftermath of the Shuka schism, and multi-cour fantasy series aren’t exactly growing on trees. I’ll certainly be giving this one a chance.
Shounen Maid – 8bit
Director: Yamamoto Yuusuke
Writer: Nakamura Yoshiko
Schedule: Premieres Wednesday, 4/06, 25:58
First Look: Frankly, I was surprised to hear that Otochibana’s manga was getting an anime adaptation. I like it a lot – I’ve read everything that’s been translated, which isn’t all that much – but it’s certainly not a commercial powerhouse. As a measure of how little-known the series is in the West, when the anime was announced I repeatedly saw it mistakenly assumed that it was based on a similarly-titled hentai doujin to which Shounen Maid has no connection whatsoever. And I don’t expect the anime to get all that much attention either.
And that’s too bad if it happens, because this one should be a real sleeper. The manga is really charming – much sweeter and more sincere than one might guess from the title and premise, which finds a young boy left to work as his uncle’s maid after his parents’ death leaves him orphaned. The art is quite nice as well, one of the most impressively-drawn shoujo manga of recent vintage. We also have a pretty solid staff, with director Yamamoto having worked on NKH no Youkouso! and B Gata H Kei (a series which is also easy to misjudge by its cover). I see no reason why Shounen Maid won’t be a very solid show, whether anyone is watching or not.
Bungou Stray Dogs – Bones
Director: Igarashi Takuya
Writer: Enokido Yoji
Schedule: Premieres Wednesday, 4/06, 25:05
Episodes: 12 (split-cour – second in Fall 2016)
First Look: Boy, when you sit down and hammer these previews out one by one, Spring 2016 really does look loaded. Bones has it working especially hard, and Bungou Stray Dogs is probably the safest bet for best show of the season. Excellent source manga, platinum studio, multi-cour, seinen, very solid staff including Gainax vet Enokido and composer Iwasaki Taku. On paper, this is a thoroughbred.
It’s a fascinating premise, too – a starving orphan named Nakajima Atsushi rescues a man attempting suicide. That man turns out to be a detective, one who specializes in the supernatural, but there’s something strange about the boy as well. It’s a very interesting and well-written story, very vibrant, and in Bones’ hands it should make for an outstanding anime.
Sakamoto desu ga? – Deen
Director: Takamatsu Shinji
Schedule: Premieres Thursday, 4/07, 26:28
First Look: Could anyone but Takamtsu Shinji possibly direct Sakamoto desu ga? – I mean, really? Anyone who’s read the manga will understand. Sano Nami’s manga is a colossal hit in Japan so this adaptation was only a matter of when, not if. And while the anime has come fairly quickly, Sano ended the manga after only four volumes – a rather courageous and surprising decision given its popularity.
Sakamoto is the story of, well– Sakamoto, an impossibly cool and GAR high-schooler beloved by girls, boys, teachers and animals (even the bullies begrudgingly revere him even as they plot his downfall). The series basically chronicles his ridiculous exploits in hilarious fashion, and with Takamatsu-sensei on-board that’s a slam-dunk. My only worry was that the anime might be half-length or even a short, but thankfully that doesn’t seem to be the case.
Sousei no Onmyouji – Pierrot
Director: Taguchi Tomohisa
Writer: Arakawa Naruhiusa
Schedule: Premieres Wednesday, 4/06, 18:25
Episodes: 12 (split-cour – second in Fall 2016)
First Look: These are heady days over at Studio Pierrot. They’ve had a very nice run of quality (not quality) over the last couple of years, and in Osomatsu-san they have a genuine monster hit of a generational magnitude. Sousei no Onmyouji doesn’t figure to be that, but it might just be another commercial winner for the studio.
Twin Star Exorcists is yet another intriguing manga adaptation this season, based on a popular and well-regarded series about two middle-school exorcists who are fierce rivals – and fated to one day marry. The staff is fairly nondescript apart from writer Arakawa, who has a long and pretty distinguished track record. I haven’t read more than a few pages of the original manga but I like what I have, and my expectations for this show are quite high.
Joker Game – Production I.G.
Director: Nomura Kazuya
Writer: Kishimoto Taku
Schedule: Premieres Tuesday, 4/05, 23:00
First Look: This should be a keeper. It’s based on a series of spy novels by Yanagi Kouji that has won several literary prizes in Japan. Joker Game has already inspired a live-action film in 2015 and a manga which will run concurrently with the anime.
I.G. has put together an A-list team for Joker Game. Director Nomura (Ghost in the Shell, Robotics;Notes) and writer Kishimoto (Boku Dake ga Inai Machi) are rock-solid, and composer Kawai Kenji is Kawai Kenji (’nuff said). The setting is the days before WW II, the subject a shady espionage training ring called “D Agency”. The twist? The spies are secretly being trained to act against the war-mongering of the Imperial military leadership. That may be the best premise of a very packed season, and it wouldn’t shock me to see Joker Game emerge as the best series of Spring.
Tonkatsu DJ Agetarou – Deen
Director: Akitarou Daichi
Schedule: Premieres Friday, 4/10, 22:15
First Look: I don’t know a whole lot about this manga adaptation, which I suspect may end up being a short. But I do know it’s directed by Akitarou Daichi, indisputably the greatest shoujo director in anime history. He ventures into oddball shounen this time with the story of the titular young man who works at his family’s tonkatsu restaurant in Shibuya and discovers his love for the club life after a delivery to a local nightspot in full roar. A visiting American DJ (Big Master Fly) inspires Agetarou to try and become great at both pork cutlets and being a DJ. On the assumption that a talent of Akitarou-sensei’s stature wouldn’t do a project he thought had potential, I’m very interested in where this is going.
Hunter X Hunter – Shounen Jump
Writer/Artist: Togashi Yoshihiro
Schedule: Returns Monday, 4/18 (4/14 on web)
First Look: Yes it’s back – one more time it’s back. And one more time the most ungrateful fanbase in manga unleashes a tsunami of mockery and disdain towards a mangaka who takes years to do what no other mangaka could do in lifetimes. It’s the circle of life.
There’s just no way to know, of course, for how long Togashi-sensei will be able to continue publishing new Hunter X Hunter without extended breaks – he has serious back problems, which as I can verify are debilitating. My hope is that he has some material banked after one of his longest hiatuses ever. However long this run lasts, however much of the “Dark Continent” arc we see this time, I have to cover it – it’s not even a question. And rather than bitch and complain and predict when the next hiatus will come, it makes a hell of a lot more sense to me to enjoy having new H x H while it lasts. This is gravy – we’re playing with house money. In the words of the late Warren Zevon, enjoy every sandwich.
Game of Thrones – HBO
Writer: George R.R. Martin
Schedule: Premieres Sunday, 4/24, 22:00
First Look: If there’s any writer whose fans are bitchier than Togashi-sensei’s, it’s George R.R. Martin. Yes, he’s slowed down a lot – but I’d rather Martin get it right than get it fast. And we’re at a rather exciting time for the HBO adaptation of A Song of Ice and Fire, because for all intents and purposes the TV series has left the books behind and fans of all stripes are in the same uncharted waters. Season 5 was easily the most uneven so far, which I chalk up largely to the awkwardness of the overlap in pacing between the show and the books, but I expect a lot from Season 6. Benioff and Weiss should have a lot more freedom now, Bran is back in the fold with potentially his most exciting season, and the story of a certain “dead” member of the Night’s Watch should prove fascinating to watch play out.
Will Definitely Blog: Uwah. Boku no Hero Academia, Kyoukai no Rinne Season 2, Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge, Concrete Revolutio: The Last Song, Ushio to Tora Second Season, Shounen Maid, Sakamoto desu ga?, Joker Game, Hunter X Hunter, Game of Thrones. Honestly, even that huge list leaves off several shows I’m overwhelmingly likely to cover. It’s going to be a long season.
Sleeper Candidates: 12-sai, Big Order, Koutetsujo no Kabaneri, Shounen Maid, Tonkatsu DJ Agetarou.
OVA/Movie: I’m already exhausted.
Noragami Aragoto (OVA) – 3/17/2016: Chapter 41 of the manga.
Kaze no Matasaburou (SP) – 4/19/2016: A city girl moves to the country and dreams of love with a local boy. A part of this year’s Young Animator Training project and seemingly a remake of a 1988 film (directed by Rintaro).
Dimension W (OAD) – 3/25/2016: Short OADs bundled with Volume 1 and 2 of the Blu-ray/DVD.
One Punch Man (OAD) – 3/25/2016: The One Punch Man OADs continue during a slow time for Madhouse. A second season is a seeming inevitability at some point.
Kamisama Hajimemashita: Kako-hen (OVA) – 4/25/2016: The “past arc” of KamiHaji continues. With the manga ending, one hopes we might see a third season to wrap up the adaptation of this wonderful and underrated shoujo – but to be honest, I think we were wildly fortunate to get a second.
Ajin (OVA) – 5/06/2016: Bundled with Vol. 8 of the manga. This is a depiction of the “Shinya Nakamura Incident”.
Theatrical: Not much going on here.
Ajin Shoutotsu – 5/2016: The second Ajin movie, which will presumably take the series past where the anime is leaving off.