The quest for greatness continues. Spring 2016 turned out to be a good season, especially in terms of quantity, but when we look back at schedules like Spring 2012, it’s a reminder of what a truly great anime season looks like. I’m not honestly sure if we’ll ever see its like again – the industry has simply undergone too many changes that will never be walked back. But it’s my nature as an anime fan to dream.
Historically speaking one doesn’t look to summer for greatness in an anime schedule – it’s generally been a lean season. But for whatever reason, in the last couple of years summer has proved quite respectable – good even. In 2013 it was the year’s best season, which had never happened in my time as a fan, featuring series such as Gin no Saji, Uchouten Kazoku and Watamote. And Summer 2016 looks pretty good on paper – I’m previewing 21 shows, about the same as spring, and it’s a good bet a decent number of them will prove worthy of coverage.
Looking at the schedule itself, I see a fairly standard mix. Sequels expected (Shokugeki no Souma, Arslan) and unexpected (D.Gray Man). Some interesting manga adaptations newer (Handa-kun) and older (Orange). Perhaps my favorite part of the schedule is that there are only three light-novel adaptations that I can see – I’m not ready to call the LN to anime boom over, but the trend is encouraging. Certainly I can’t remember the last time we had more originals than LN adaptations on the schedule, though the trade-off is that as the number of original series has been increasing, so has their level of the derivative. It’s a pretty big season for Key – we have both a Rewrite series (exciting for Tanaka Romeo fans) and a long-awaited Planetarian ONA and movie coming.
Without any question two series stand far, far above the pack for me in terms of expectations – Battery and Mob Psycho 100. We’ve got elite studios, one of the greatest anime directors ever, arguably the most exciting young talent of his generation, and highly-regarded source material. If this season is going to feature at least one truly great series, it seems likely to come from one of those two.
The sidebar poll is in the usual place – go get it! Without further ado, on to the previews:
Fukigen na Mononokean – Pierrot Plus
Director: Iwanaga Akira
Writer: Yoshioka Takao
Schedule: Premieres Tuesday 6/28, 23:30
First Look: There’s a very faint whiff of Natsume Yuujinchou in the air around Fukigen no Mononokean, the tale of a high schooler who’s unwillingly stuck to a youkai and the café owner who reluctantly tries to help it pass on to the next world. I don’t know the source material here but I know it’s pretty well-regarded. On the flip-side one of the leads is Kaji Yuuki and the staff isn’t necessarily exceptional. It’s no secret that I have a weakness for Shinto-themed fantasy, so I’ll be going onto this one with a certain degree of optimism.
Berserk – Millipensee/GEMBA
Director/Writer: Itagaki Shin
Writer: Fukami Makoto
Schedule: Premieres Friday, 7/01, 22:30
First Look: When I realize how little exposure I have to the Berserk franchise it always surprises me, given how massively popular it is. The manga is, in fact, no less than the #1 ranked of all-time on MAL, and despite starting in 1989 is still ongoing (though mangaka Miura Kentarou is almost as legendary for hiatuses as Togashi). The general consensus seems to be that the 1997 anime adaptation was a modest disappointment, and there seems little optimism that a current attempt can do better.
What we know – this is a sequel to the first anime (and subsequent movies) and seems to be adapting the “Black Swordsman” arc. That the source material is incredibly dark and disturbing. That this version is going to all or mostly CGI, and that the staff isn’t all that distinguished. I’m certainly going to give this a shot (after familiarizing myself with the material that precedes it), and perhaps not having the weight of expectations bearing down on my will be a good thing.
Hatsukoi Monster – Studio DEEN – A-1 Pictures
Director: Inagaki Takayuki
Writer: Akao Deko
Schedule: Premieres Saturday, 7/02, 23:00
First Look: A high-school girl is saved from being hit by a truck by a tall young man, who she promptly falls in love with. Turns out they’re staying at the same dormitory, and she asks me him out. Only problem? Turns out the guy is in firth-grade. OK, I won’t attempt to defend that premise – but if played right, there could be some comic potential in it. I’m pretty much taking an out-and-out flyer on this one and my expectations are minimal, but it’s 22 minutes out of my life (or who knows – maybe even less if it’s offensive enough).
Fudanshi Koukou Seikatsu – DAX/Dream Creation
Director: Tokoro Toshikatsu
Schedule: Premieres Tuesday, 7/05 – 22:55
First Look: This one is also kind of a flyer based on the intriguingly oddball premise. The story is built around the daily life of a high school male yaoi fan, which means this series could easily prove either really novel and insightful or crass and demeaning. I’m hoping a mangaka who was bothered to write a series about a character like that would give us the former, but I have no basis to make a call – I haven’t read any of the manga and the studio and staff tell us next to nothing.
Kono Bitsubu ni wa Mondai ga Aru! – feel
Director: Oikawa Kei
Writer: Arakawa Naruhisa
Schedule: Premieres Thursday, 7/08 – 02:28
First Look: Some sleeper vibe is emanating from this adaptation of Imigi Muru’s manga about a high school art club full of oddball kids. The male lead is obsessed with drawing the perfect 2-D waifu, the female lead is ultra-sensible, the president is always asleep. The staff is rock-solid and experienced and the source publication is a seinen magazine (which is almost always a good sign). Good comedies are the bedrock of any really good anime season – the shows you just relax and enjoy week after week – and Kono Bitsubu ni wa Mondai Aru! seems to have the potential to help fill that role this summer.
Planetarian: Chiisana Hoshi no Yume – David Production
Director: Tsuda Naokatsu
Writer: Yasukawa Shogo
Schedule: Premieres Wednesday, 7/07
First Look: Key fans have a lot to look forward to this season – in the wake of finally seeing Little Busters adapted (and well, too) they’re getting not one but two Visual Arts properties this season. Of course, as they did when LitBus came to the screen most of them are spending more time complaining that Kyoto Animation isn’t producing than being happy the VN they love is finally making it onto the screen in anime form.
Planetarian is actually getting a two-pronged treatment – this 5-episode net animation, to be followed by a theatrical film this summer. All of them come courtesy of David Production, not a huge studio but one that has done some nice work in the past. A post-apocalyptic hard sci-fi about a space salvager called a “junker” in a future where humanity on Earth is nearly extinct, Planetarian has a reputation as being the most restrained and darkest of key’s works. Fans have been waiting since 2004 for this one, and while I’m not a hardcore gamer by any means my expectation level is pretty high based on what I know of the story.
91 Days – Shuka
Director: Kaburaki Hiro
Writer: Kishimoto Taku
Schedule: Premieres Thursday, 7/08, 25:55
First Look: 91 Days might just be the most interesting of this season’s original anime. It has a definite Baccano! vibe to it and comes from the studio that spun off from Brain’s Base, which produced that classic. Kishimoto has an excellent track record and Kaburaki is one of the most underrated directors working in anime today, having helmed the superb Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun and Hoozuki no Reitetsu in recent years. The story is set in the U.S. during the early years of prohibition, and chronicles the cycle of violence surrounding a group of characters with ties to the mob. It features a cast light on idols and heavy on talent, including Kondou Takashi (who was so great as Claude in Ikoku Meiro no Croisee) as male lead Avilo. You never know with originals, but the pedigree is certainly in place for 91 Days to be a keeper.
Arslan Senku: Fuujin Ranbu – Lidenfilms
Director: Abe Noriyuki
Writer: Uezu Makoto
Schedule: Premieres Saturday, 7/03, 17:00
First Look: All systems should be go for Arslan Senki‘s second season to pick up where the first left off – the staff is back in place and there’s plenty of story left to tell. The only down note, really, is that the season is only 8 episodes long (it’s actually sharing a timeslot with the new season of Nanatsu no Taizai).
Arslan Senki has always been a bit of an odd duck as an adaptation, given that it’s theoretically baed on a manga that’s as often as not on hiatus these days, but is itself based on a novel series that dates all the way back to 1986. The first season had already passed Arakawa Hiromu’s manga in the narrative timeline, so what we’re really seeing here is Tanaka Yoshiki’s story being adapted with Arakawa-sensei’s character designs. What that means in terms of the future of the anime is hard to say, but the story itself is a pretty gripping one – one of the best historical fantasy series anywhere – and I’ll happily take eight episodes if that’s all I’m going to get.
Battery – Zero-G
Director/Writer: Mochizuki Tomomi
Schedule: Premieres Thursday, 7/15, 25:55
First Look: This one checks off pretty much all the boxes for me. It’s written and directed by Mochizuki Tomomi, one of the half-dozen or so greatest creative talents in TV anime history. The character designs are by Hourou Musuko‘s Shimura Takako. It’s a sports series, and baseball one at that – and it’s one focused around the character story. It’s based on a novel that’s won Japan’s greatest prizes for young adult literature, and has already inspired a manga, a live-action TV drama and a theatrical film. All systems are fully go.
It’s fascinating that NoitaminA can whipsaw from a series so patently at odds with its original mission like Koutetsujou no Kabaneri (fun though it is) to a highly literate classic NoitaminA piece like Battery without batting an eye these days. The core relationship here is between a young phenom of a pitcher who loses faith in his talent after moving to a new town and starting middle school, and the boy who becomes his battery-mate and best friend. In a sense, the vibe I’m getting here is Adachi Mitsuru meets Sakamichi no Apollon. The fact that novelist Asano Atsuko also wrote No. 6 (and that Shimura is involved, I suppose) will probably cause warning lights to flash for the narrow-minded, but I have no idea whether there’s a romantic subtext between the leads – nor do I care, to be honest. There’s every reason to expect Battery to be a major contender for best series of the season.
Handa-kun – Diomedea
Director: Koyama Yoshitaka
Writer: Yokote Michiko
Schedule: Premieres Thursday, 7/08, 25:58
First Look: Barakamon mangaka Yoshino Satsuki did something quite interesting and unusual with the launch of Handa-kun, a spin-off/prequel, while the original manga was ongoing (which it still is). Handa-kun is quite different from Barakamon in terms of tone and style despite sharing the same main character, and it’s actually proved to be even more popular than its parent in manga form.
Handa-kun has changed studio and cast from Brakamon, but I’m fine with that. The Barakamon adaptation was pretty good, but made what for me were some poor choices along the way and in the process really lost the nuance and essence of the source material. Maybe Handa-kun will be more faithful, we’ll see – I like what little of it I’ve read. The dynamic is quite odd, with the socially awkward Handa-kun being something of a school idol while laboring under the mistaken impression that he’s a bottom-feeding bully victim. It’s recognizably Yoshino’s work, but especially as regards the humor the feel of the series is very different indeed.
Shoukigeki no Souma: Ni no Sara – J.C. Staff
Director: Yonetani Yoshitomo
Writer: Yasukawa Shogo
Schedule: Premieres Saturday, 7/02, 22:00
First Look: I really loved the job J.C. Staff did in bringing Shoukugeki no Souma, a very good manga but not a great one, to the screen. They mined every ounce of appeal from the material and adapted it with a great sense of style, from the OP/ED to the eyecatches to the casting. I could never quite figure out why this series didn’t sell more discs – it has plenty of fanservice for both genders (and food porn fans), it was qualitatively excellent and looked great, and the manga is very popular. Fortunately in the world of Shounen Jump adaptations disc sales are only a small slice of the economic pie, thus this sequel – and I would imagine we’ll get a complete adaptation of the manga sooner or later.
The appeal of Shoukugeki no Souma is a bit hard to describe in writing – I think it’s one of those shows you just have to experience. It attacks the culinary side of its story with zeal and decent accuracy, and provides an interesting reimagining of the classic shounen template in an unusual setting for it. There’s a lot of abandon and joy in the crafting of this series, an embrace of silliness and cliche without losing the grounding of the characters and their relationships. Souma will never at any time be the best manga in WSJ, nor will the anime be the best show of any season, but it always manages to deliver the goods in grand style.
ReLIFE – TMS
Director: Kosaka Satoru
Writer: Yokote Michiko
First Look: ReLIFE has slipped under my radar a bit, but the more I read about this Kodansha-nominated manga’s adaptation the more intrigued I get. The story follow an unemployed 27 year-old salaryman loser who’s given a chance to be part of an experiment where his appearance is changed (via a drug) to a 17 year-old, and he lives the high-school experience for a year. TMS is as close to a “neutral” studio as there is and director Kosaka has never helmed a series before (Yokote is obviously very experienced and very busy), but the source material seems extremely interesting. This is likely to be one of those frustrating one-cour adaptations of ongoing manga, but it strikes me as a case where I might end up picking up the manga after the anime ends.
D.Gray-man Hallow – TMS
Director: Ashino Yoshiharu
Schedule: Premieres Tuesday, 7/05, 23:35
First Look: D.Gray-man was not a series I necessarily expected to see get a sequel (not a reboot) after all this time. The manga is famous for Hunter X Hunter-level hiatuses (mangaka Hoshino Katsura has been more or less open about her health issues), but it soldiers on. Everything is new here – studio, staff, cast – and the fact that this adaptation is one-cour indicates it’s going to be a pretty selective affair. I enjoyed most of the first series and it most certainly provided one of the most frustrating stopping points ever, but knowing things are still ongoing and Hallow won’t finish them gives me pause – as does the fact that manga readers seem generally unimpressed with the direction Hoshino-sensei has taken the story.
Qualidea Code – A-1 Pictures
Director: Kawamura Kenichi
Schedule: Premieres Sunday, 7/10, 24:00
First Look: Stop me if you’ve heard this before: in a dystopian future, a bunch of teens with mysterious esper powers are at the forefront of the battle with the supernatural enemy of all mankind. This original series is pretty much a straight-up flyer for me, but the staff and promo materials at least emanate the sense of halfway decent pulp entertainment.
Amaama to Inazuma – TMS
Director: Iwasaki Tarou
Writer: Hirota Mitsutaka
Schedule: Premieres Tuesday, 7/05, 25:05
First Look: Damn, TMS Entertainment is busy this summer – have they ever had this many shows in a single season before? There are some unusual elements with Amaama to Inazuma that make it an interesting prospect for me. It features an adult main character for one – a single father with a young daughter. It’s built around food, always an interesting topic. And Iwasaki-sensei did a nice job directing Isshuukan Friends for Brain’s Base. I don’t know the source material here but the buzz around it is generally pretty positive. All in all it’s enough to put Sweetness and Lightning into the second tier of prospects for this season.
Mob Psycho 100 – Bones
Director: Tachikawa Yuzuru
Writer: Seko Hiroshi
Schedule: Premieres Tuesday, 7/12, 24:00
First Look: Here’s the other resident of the top expectations tier along with Battery, this time featuring an lite director from an entirely different generation. Tachikawa-sensei’s Death Parade was the best anime of 2015, a remarkable work from a 33 year-old – especially considering that he created it, wrote the scripts and storyboarded it as well as directing. He’s taken his services from Madhouse to TV anime’s other premier studio, Bones, for this one – and all the piece are there. In addition to top-shelf director and studio bona fides Mob Psycho 100 also features music by anime’s greatest composer, Kawai Kenji, and a source material by ONE – whose One Punch Man proved the basis for one of 2015’s better series. We even get a lead role for Miyu Irino (as the protagonist’s younger brother).
I haven’t read much of ONE’s manga, but what I have delivers about what you’d expect – his bizarre art style and a great deal of wit and thoughtfulness semi-hidden under madcap surrealism and snark. Mob Psycho 100 is the story of an 8th-grader named Shigeo with psychic powers who’s spent most of his life hiding them so as to avoid unwanted attention. The problem is that’s impossible, and Shigeo is smart enough to understand the danger inherent in his powers. In my view Mob Psycho 100 is a more grounded series than One Punch Man, somewhat more “serious” for lack of a better (and less overused) word. This is one of those shows that almost can’t avoid being really good – the only question is whether it will be great, and whether it will be successful enough to see its story continue in anime form.
Cheer Danshi!! – Brain’s Base
Director: Yoshimura Ai
Writer: Yoshida Reiko
Schedule: Premieres Tuesday, 7/05, 23:00
First Look: Here’a another series that’ a bit of a flyer. But old loyalties to Brain’s Base die hard, and there some reasons for optimism about Cheer Danshi!! The staff is relatively good – Yoshimura is fairly competent, and Yoshida one of the most experienced writers in anime. I’m also inclined to give series directed by women more rope to hang themselves, because anime desperately needs more female directors. And the source material here is an actual novel. Whether there’s anything much to be mined from a premise about a quirky male cheer squad who knows, but at least they’re college students rather than high schoolers. It’s worth an episode or two, anyway.
Rewrite – 8bit
Director/Writer: Tanaka Motoki
Writer: Tanaka Romeo
Schedule: Premieres Saturday, 7/02, Time TBA
First Look: Key’s other major adaptation this season is Rewrite, generally regarded as one of the better visual novels ever created. I’m a big fan of Tanaka Romeo (as far as I know this was his only collaboration with Visual Arts) and the general consensus seems to be that Kotarou is the best of all Key male leads. Story-wise we seem to be looking at a fairly classic Key VN scenario – a guy with a buttmonkey best friend, a harem, and a strong supernatural undertone (though in the case of Rewrite, “undertone” probably doesn’t do it justice – it’s more just “tone”).
There’s a lot to be excited about here, though a lot of questions too. There are rumors that this adaptation will be at least three cours, but nothing confirmed as of this writing. There’s also the fact that veterans of the VN seem to feel that it’s virtually unadaptable in anything like its native form, and indeed Tanaka and Tanaka II (Motoki) have already said they’re writing a more or less original route for the anime. We’ll see – Rewrite isn’t my top pick for the summer but it could definitely prove to be one of the season’s best series.
Binan Koukou Chikyuu Bouei-bu LOVE! LOVE! – Studio Comet
Director: Takamatsu Shinji
Writer: Yokote Michiko
Schedule: Premieres Friday, 7/08, 26:35
Episodes: One Cour
First Look: Takamtsu Shinji is the go-to guy for school shows centered around boys, and the first season of this rare mahou shounen series was a total blast. Shinji has a very deft hand at lovingly sending up the gender stereotypes that dominate anime these days, and Binan Koukou totally buys into the silliness of its own premise. At its best the first season was outright hilarious, and it was almost never less than seriously fun. If Binan Koukou had ever really tried to take itself seriously I think the spell would have been broken, but it never did – and there’s no reason to think the second season will be any different.
Days – MAPPA
Director: Uda Kounosuke
First Look: Summer is usually good for a sports anime or two, and this year is no exception. I love this genre and its absence leaves a gaping hole in an otherwise decent spring. As for Days, my expectations aren’t as stratospheric as they are for Battery, but they’re still high. I love soccer anime for starters, and Days shares a director with the utterly splendid Ginga e Kickoff. Its creator Yasuda Tsuyoshi also wrote Over Drive, which I consider to be one of the more underrated sports series of the past couple of decades.
With all of that going for it and MAPPA besides, Days seems like a solid bet to be a very good show. From what I’ve read so far it’s a fairly straightforward sports manga, not as edgy as Over Drive but heartfelt and tightly-plotted. We’ve got a familiar tale of two boys, one a soccer phenom named Jin and the other an average kid named Tsukushi who knows nothing about the game. Jin makes it his mission to bring Tsukushi into the sport and the rest, as they say, is history. I imagine this will be multi-cour but the manga is still ongoing.
Orange – TMS/Telecom Animation Film
Director: Hamsaki Hiroshi
Writer: Kakihara Yuuko
Schedule: Premieres Monday, 7/04, 24:00
First Look: Orange is a manga that inspires very strong emotions indeed, both positive and negative. I know people who revere it as an absolute classic and those who decry it as manipulative and melodramatic, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone call it boring. The manga was completed in five volumes so I imagine it’s a series that could be adapted relatively easily in one cour, though to the best of my knowledge there’s still no official episode count. There’s a turbulent history here – a long hiatus, a change of publications, a switch to monthly format.
The story here is about a high school girl who receives a letter claiming to be from herself, ten years into the future, warning her of a series of regrets connected to a boy about to transfer into her class. I imagine Orange to be one of those series where spoilers are going to be a huge problem. The manga has already received a live-action film and is generally well-known, so there are going to be an awful lot of people on whose discretion the rest of us are going to have to uneasily rely. There’s a pretty strong staff here and the previews look gorgeous, so the hype is already building – I can see glory and disaster doing battle on the horizon, but it’s likely what we arrive at will be something in-between.
Will Definitely Blog: Arslan Senki, Battery, Shoukugeki no Souma, Mob Psycho 100, Days. But there are at least 4-5 more that are heavy favorites to make the cut.
Sleeper Candidates: Kono Bitsubu ni wa Mondai Aru!, 91 Days, ReLIFE, Amaama to Inazuma.
Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge Specials: (Special) – 6/24/ & 7/22/2016: Two Blu-ray extra episodes of Silver Link’s marvelous Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge. Savor them, as they’ll likely be the last Tanaka-kun anime we get.
Shokugeki no Souma Special (Special) – 7/04/2016: Part 2 of the autumn vacation side story.
Joker Game: Kuroneko Your no Bouken (OVA) – 7/27/2016: First of a two-part special episode of Joker Game. I’ve grown somewhat disillusioned about the TV series but it’s a quality work.
Akatsuki no Yona (OVA) – 8/2016: The first of two OVAs covering the Zeno Arc. I’ll take any Yona I can get, though seeing this in OVA form seems to suggest that the chances of a second season are pretty remote.
Kamisama Hajimemashita: Kako-hen (OVA) – 8/19/2016: The fourth and final episode of KamiHaji‘s “past arc” – and likely the series’ final salvo as an anime. It will be sorely missed – it’s one of the more under-appreciated series of recent years.
Dimension W (Special) – 8/26/2016: Special episode bundled with Vol. 6 of the manga.
Theatrical: Finally some signs of life on the big screen.
Kaze no You ni – 7/09/2016: A fairy-tale about a boy beekeeper who disappears and the girl who awaits his return. The odds that this is ever subtitled are astronomically small, but the art is very appealing
Mahoutsukai no Yome: Hoshi Matsu Hito – 8/13/2016: Yamazaki Kore’s extremely popular and critically acclaimed “The Ancient Magus’ Bride” manga gets an anime from Wit. Oddly, it’s a 3-part OVA prequel to the manga itself. The only reason I can fathom for this choice given the series’ proven commercial success is to buy a little more time to build up source material before launching a full-fledged TV anime.
Kimi no Na wa – 8/26/2016: There are very few anime directors for whom the release of a new film is an event, but Shinkai Makoto is definitely one of them. He seems to again be taking his star-crossed lovers theme literally here, as the plot involves a city boy and country girl somehow being spiritually connected after a comet falls in Japan. My completely unsubstantiated feeling is that this one leans more towards the polished, mainstream style we saw from Shinkai in Hoshi wo Ou Kodomo, but we’ll see – in any event you know it will leave you gobsmacked with the beauty of Shinkai’s art.
Planetarian: Hoshi no Hito – 9/3/2016: The Planetarian adaptation concludes with this film version.
Koe no Katachi – 9/17/16: I’m a big fan of Ooima Yoshitoki’s manga about a deaf girl and the boy who bullies her in elementary school, but even more about what happens after bullying. I wasn’t thrilled when I found out that this adaptation was going to be a movie, because there’s far too much material to cover. I was even less thrilled when Kyoto Animation was announced as the studio, especially as they gave the project to one of their weaker directors in Yamada Naoko. This is a minefield – can KyoAni resist the urge to run this dense, rough-edged material through the homogenizer? Could any studio adapt it in a single film without butchering the story? I love Koe no Katachi too much not to hope, but also too much to not be very worried.