My quick take on Fall 2016 is this: it doesn’t look all that great, but we’d better enjoy it for what it is – because the early returns on 2017 look positively grisly.
On balance, I think both Spring and Summer 2016 have been pretty good seasons, and that 2016 as a whole has been a modestly above-average year (though I won’t be able to say for sure until I start working on the year-end Top 20). Sadly, though, these two seasons haven’t been nearly as successful commercially as they have been artistically. My fear is that this is causing the industry to throw up their hands and say “Well, we gave it our best shot – back to what’s safe and predictable.” That’s what 2017 looks like so far, anyway – and Fall 2016 might just be somewhere in-between.
What really struck me as I started putting together this post is just how many damn shows there are this season. Fall is usually one of anime’s two biggest seasons (just behind summer) but without actually doing a historical comparison, this strikes me as among the most packed in years. Quantity at the very least gives you more chances to strike gold, but while I am previewing a high number of series (23) there are relatively few about which I feel any real enthusiasm or optimism. And it’s not as though we’re overloaded with LN adaptations (happily, the trend away from them seems to be continuing). Rather, the problem seems to be that the quality and creative ambition of original series is declining (precipitously) and the choices for manga adaptations getting safer and more derivative.
Stepping back and looking at this massive schedule as a whole, the picture that emerges is that of a resurgence of “house of pies” type series (especially cute girls doing cute things, a spike which seems set to go into overdrive in Winter) targeted at specific buying groups, with a few quirky square pegs dotted here and there. There are a ton of kids series and game adaptations (a rapidly growing segment seemingly filling in the space left by the decrease in LN adaptations) but not an obvious predominance of any other specific genre.
The safest bet for Fall is surely Natsume Yuujinchou Go; the obvious make or break series for the season Shaft’s take on Umino Chika’s blockbuster manga Sangatsu no Lion. There’s a lot riding on that one, largely because the boom-bust factor is off the charts. There’s very little else that I would consider a sure-thing to cover, but with so many candidates you just have to hope a few break out of the pack.
The sidebar poll is in the usual place – go get it! Without further ado, on to the previews:
Digimon Universe: Appli Monsters – Toei
Director: Koga Gou
Writer: Kato Youichi
Schedule: Premieres Saturday 10/01, 07:00
First Look: This certainly doesn’t look like the most ambitious updating of the Digimon franchise (the movie series takes that honor) but hey, it’s a soft season and I was always a Digimon over Pokemon guy so I’ll give it a shot.
WWW.Working!!– A-1 Pictures
Director: Kamakura Yumi
Writer: Yoshioka Takao
Schedule: Premieres Saturday 10/01, 23:30
First Look: There seems to be some consensus that this web-based spinoff of the classic manga Working isn’t quite on the same level as its parent series, though as I haven’t read it myself I can’t speak from experience. Working of course ended almost perfectly,, so I don’t feel any great imperative to revisit the franchise, but I’ll certainly give WWW.Working a chance. Mangaka Takatsu Karino is fond of crossovers, so don’t be surprised if we see some cameos by the staff of the Wagnaria we know best.
Kidou Senshi Gundam: Tekketsu no Orphans 2nd Season – Sunrise
Director: Nagai Tatsuyuki
Writer: Okada Mari
Schedule: Premieres Sunday, 10/02, 17:00
First Look: It would be fair to say that the first season of Tekketsu no Orphans proved to be quite a disappointment to me, especially with a great director like Nagai Tatsuyuki and a divisive writer like Okada Mari on-board. There were some hints here of what could have been one of the more emotionally involving Gundam incarnations out there, broaching some very difficult political and moral questions. But there was just too much unpunished stupidity, too much moral abdication by the writing, and too much headdesk-inducing writing in the end. I’ll give S2 a shot (it’s doing quite well in the U.S. on Toonami) but my expectations are going to be pretty modest. Frankly, I think Iron-Blooded Orphans is far from the best use of Nagai’s time.
Natsume Yuujinchou Go – Shuka
Director: Omori Takahiro
Writer: Murai Sadayuki
Schedule: Premieres Tuesday, 10/04 – 25:35
Episodes: TBA (one cour)
First Look: There could hardly be a safer bet on this schedule full of crapshoots than this fifth-generation sequel in one of the most consistent franchises in anime history. It probably wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say I’ve spent more emotional capital on Natsume Yuujinchou than any other anime over the years if you look at it cumulatively. It’s one of the shows that’s hopelessly intertwined with my identity as an anime fan.
It’s sort of odd, then, that I don’t feel more enthusiasm for “Go” than I do (though it’s still a lot). Part of it may be that the fourth season was overall my least favorite, yet ended so perfectly and in such elegiac fashion that it seems almost sacrilegious to add anything to it. Yet the manga is ongoing, and it is only right that the series should see completion in anime form – it’s been a big seller from the beginning and frankly, I think the anime transcends the manga. As with several other Brain’s Base properties, this one is moving to the new studio Shuka, but with most of the creative staff (most crucially director Omori) intact. Here’s hoping we get another Kogitsune episode this season.
Magic Kyun! Renaissance – Sunrise
Director: Yamazaki Mitsue
Writer: Konparu Tomoko
Schedule: Premieres Sunday, 10/02 – 22:30
First Look: We’re beyond flyer status with this one, but a few of these are going to have to pan out or it’s going to be a long and desolate season. Sunrise taking on what sounds like an otome game crossed with “Fame!” is just bizarre enough to get a one-episode audition.
12-sai.: Chicchana Mune no Tokimeki 2nd Season – OLM
Director: Taichuu Seiki
Writer: Tsubota Fumi
Schedule: Premieres Monday, 10/03, 19:30
First Look: I liked the first season of 12-sai, though it was hardly a revelation. Anime that attempt to take a semi-serious look at the lives of pre-teens are rare and always welcome, though the most similar series to this one, Kyou no Go no Ni, was certainly better. The more focus there is on the “B” couple and the less on the rather boring main pairing the better off 12-sai is.
Trickster: Edogawa Ranpo “Shounen Tanteidan” yori – Shin-Ei Animation, TMS
Director: Mukai Masahiro
Writer: Yoshida Erika
Schedule: Premieres Monday, 10/03, 25:05
First Look: Anime takes another crack at Edogawa Ranpo’s famous “Boys Detective Club”, and let’s hope this version turns out better than the last one (the very disappointing “Rampo Kitan: Game of Laplace”). There’s not much to go on based on staff (Peach-Pit is doing the character designs, interestingly), and the studios (TMS and Shin-Ei) are pretty much neutral factors. This time around the Ranpo boys are re-imagined in the future (2030). Modest expectations here, but there seems to be some potential for an interesting take on a classic mythology.
Nanbaka – Satelight
Director: Takamatsu Shinji
Writer: Hirota Mitsutaka
Schedule: Premieres Thursday, 10/06, 26:00
First Look: Yet another flyer, this time a manga adaptation about four guys in the world’s most formidable prison. And it’s a comedy, which is a good thing, otherwise I’m not sure director Takamatsu Shinji would know what to do with himself. I’m here mostly for the staff – Takamtsu is generally good, there are some other capable hands on-board, and the art somehow reminds me of Blood Lad (a series of which I’m quite fond).
All Out!!– Madhouse, TMS
Director: Shimizu Kenichi
Writer: Yokotani Masahiro
Schedule: Premieres Thursday, 10/06, 24:00
First Look: Well, Madhouse is back on the sports train with All Out!! (exclamation points are all the rage these days) – with a little assist from co-producer TMS. As far as I know there’s never been a rugby anime before, but the sport is moderately popular in Japan. There’s no one involved at the top levels that stands out as outstanding, and the promo art seems to make it pretty clear who the target audience here is (perhaps not coincidentally Free! writer Yokotani Masahiro is on series composition). But I take some hope in the fact that All Out!! runs in a seinen magazine and I’ll hope for the best.
Drifters – Hoods Drifters Studio
Director: Suzuki Kenichi
Writer: Kurata Hideyuki
Schedule: Premieres Friday, 10/07, 23:00
First Look: The Japanese obsession with Sengoku warlords seems truly limitless, and here’s another riff on the theme. This time the focus is on Toyohisa Shimazu, mortally wounded at the Battle of Sekigahara. There’s a sci-fi element, as the story surrounds war heroes plucked from throughout history to join the group of “Drifters” whose purpose will be made clear. The manga this show is based on is fairly well-regarded and the staff looks decent, and my overall sense is that Drifters is going to be a pretty solid effort.
Haikyuu!!: Karasuno Koukou VS Shiratorizawa Gakuen Koukou – Production I.G.
Director: Mitsunaka Susumu
Writer: Kishimoto Taku
Schedule: Premieres Friday, 10/07, 25:55
Episodes: TBA (one cour)
First Look: Haikyuu!! is a pretty unassailable series on the whole. I don’t consider it among the very best sports anime out there, but it’s remarkably consistent, spectacularly drawn and animated and suffered very few extended mediocre spells. It’s also one of the most commercially successful sports manga franchises there is, so the fact that this third season is one cour shouldn’t be taken as any kind of loss of confidence from the suits. Rather, it seems Production I.G. and Shueisha have decided to focus exclusively on the Shiratorizawa match, which is apparently enough of a blockbuster to take up an entire cour. It’s possible Haikyuu may suffer the kind of marginal dip that Shokugeki no Souma did by having an entirely competition-driven season which doesn’t give the characters (or audience) time to breathe, but this series has shown itself to be pretty deft in its decision-making so I’m not expecting any major problems.
Director: Fujita Yoichi
Writer: Tsuchiya Mishihiro
Schedule: Premieres Saturday, October 08, 17:30
First Look: Sunrise is pretty busy this season, and it’s always nice to see them venturing into territory that’s outside their normal happy zone. Whether that applies to ClassicaLoid is debatable, though, since despite the presence of Western classical giants like Mozart and Chopin this is essentially a mecha series. The presence of Fujita Yoichi (Osomatsu-san, Gintama) as director should clue you in as to the tone, if the premise wasn’t enough. I’m not sure whether Hitsugi no Chaika/Outbreak Company writer Sakaki Ichirou being the creator is a good thing or not. Another flyer, but weird enough and with enough interesting names involved to be one to keep an eye on.
Udon no Kuni no Kiniro Kemari – LIDENFILMS
Director: Ibata Yoshihide
Writer: Takahashi Natsuko
Schedule: Premieres Saturday, 10/08, 25:55
First Look: The number of shows that give me real sleeper vibes this season is tiny, but Udon no Kuni is definitely one that does. It checks a lot a lot of boxes for me – Japanese mythology (the boy the protagonist adopts is a tanuki), soft-hued watercolor palette, adult main character, seinen. The staff isn’t spectacular (though writer Takahashi Natsuko has done some nice work) and LIDENFILMS – well, who knows. But it feels like a winner.
Plot-wise, we’re looking at the story of a 30 year-old from Tokyo who moves back to his hometown in Kagawa Prefecture, where he crosses paths with the aforementioned tanuki child. I spent a little time in Kagawa – Japan’s smallest prefecture that is indeed famous for its tanuki udon – and it’s really a charming and quirky place. The notion of the two main characters traveling its backroads (which is most of its roads) has the potential for a really winning slice of life.
Luger Code 1951– Studio Deen
Director: Takahashi Shinya
Writer: Takayama Katsuhiko
Schedule: Premieres Saturday, 10/22
First Look: Here’s another original series with a first-time director from a neutral studio, but there are a few interesting quirks with Luger Code 1951. It’s the first winner of the “Shonen Jump+ × Animax Anime Scenario Award”, though as the contest was originally set to be for a scenario for a “short anime covering 30-40 minutes” it’s not clear to me whether this is intended as a full series or not. In any event it’s an interesting premise – a genius teenage professor is tasked with cracking a code used by… werewolves (and must capture a live one in order to do it). Well – why the hell not?
Fune wo Amu – Zexcs
Director: Kuroyanagi Toshimasa
Writer: Sato Takuya
Schedule: Premieres Thursday, 10/13, 24:55
First Look: There aren’t many times when I prefer the English title of an anime, but this is one – “The Great Passage” just has a fabulous aura to it. That aside, this novel adaptation is probably one of the more intriguing prospects of the season. Miura Shion’s original book already inspired a live-action film that won the Japanese Academy Award for best film in 2013, and Fune wo Amu seems like a perfect fit for NoitaminA – from five years ago, anyway.
The premise is a very interesting one – the focus is on a group of dictionary writers and editors trying to bridge the divide (“the great passage”) between words and the people. The only thing that really gives me pause is that Zexcs is hardly a premier studio, and director Kuroyanagi Toshimasa doesn’t have much of a track record to go on. Indeed, the big name is Sato Takuya, certainly best known as a director himself but handling series composition here.
Time Bokan 24 – Tatsunoko
Director: Inagaki Takayuki
Writer: Katou Youichi
Schedule: Premieres Saturday, 10/01, 17:30
First Look: I’m always happy to see something new from Tatsunoko, even if it’s something old. In this case really old, as in over 40 years since the original Time Bokan series (also by Tatsunoko) premiered. This kids’ time travel adventure doesn’t figure to be anything spectacular, to be honest, but sometimes these revivals of old chestnuts can surprise you (Osomatsu-san on line 2).
Sangatsu no Lion – Shaft
Director: Shinbou Akiyuki
Schedule: Premieres Saturday, 10/08, 23:00
First Look: And here we are, the big kahuna. A lot rides on this one, certainly for me – in theory, a Sangatsu no Lion adaptation should have been a slam-dunk, the highlight of the season in a walk. I love Umino Chika’s manga, and the subject of why a massively popular series by the author of Himitsu to Clover was going years without an adaptation was a hot topic in animanga circles. When the anime was announced there was much rejoicing. But then, we got Shafted.
I don’t see a lot of point in rehashing the problems I have with Shaft and its embodiment, Shinbou Akiyuki – suffice to say I find them both emblematic of and contributors to the increasingly crass and marketing-driven nature of anime production. I could hardly have imagined a worse choice from my perspective, but this is the choice that was made. And apparently Umino-sensei herself requested it (either that or she’s a world-class liar). The initial previews don’t seem terrible, and the fact is that there are series in the Shaft-Shinbou canon that I like and which don’t smother the source material in the director’s signature tics and posing – it’s just that there haven’t been any for quite a few years. I’m still hopeful that some semblance of the manga will survive the Shaft treatment intact, but my expectations are guarded rather than expansive. With a straightforward adaptation by a respectful and competent director Sangatsu no Lion would have been a can’t miss – with Shinbou, only a fool would even hazard a guess.
Watashi ga Motete Dousunda– Brain’s Base
Director: Ishiodori Hiroshi
Writer: Yokote Michiko
Schedule: Premieres Thursday, 10/06, 25:58
First Look: If you didn’t look too closely at the promo materials for this manga adaptation, you’d think it was destined to be another in a long line of depressingly formulaic otome game adaptations from the once mighty Brain’s Base. But this one is a bit different, starting with the fact that it is a manga adaptation. It’s also rather amusing on paper – the story of a rampant fujoshi who ships two of her classmates and who loses a bunch of weight after her favorite anime character dies, and becomes a hot target herself. It might still end up being pretty dumb or a formulaic harem comedy, but the manga gets pretty decent reviews for the most part. I’ll certainly be giving this one a chance.
Yuri!!! on Ice – MAPPA
Director/Writer: Yamamoto Sayo
Schedule: Premieres Wednesday, 10/05, 26:21
First Look: Honestly, my favorite part of Yuri!!! on Ice has been seeing the apoplectic reactions of otaku who assumed the title referred to something besides a Russian boy’s name. Apart from that, I have some modest interest here on the grounds of this being another MAPPA sports series and an original at that. I know director Yamamoto Sayo has her fans, but I’m not really one of them. Still, Russian figure skating prodigies are at least fairly new ground for anime, and with three (!) exclamation points Yuri!!! on Ice has wrested the punctuation crown away from the likes of Haikyuu!! and All Out!!.
Ajin 2nd Season – Polygon
Director: Seshita Hiroyuki
Writer: Seko Hiroshi
Schedule: Premieres Friday, 10/07, 26:25
Episodes: One Cour
First Look: Unless the manga jumped the shark (and that seems very unlikely) the second season of Ajin should be a pretty sure thing with very few surprises. Excellent pacing, a well-crafted plot, lots of despair and off-putting CGI character animation seem to be sure bets here. Taken all together that should make Ajin one of the better shows of the Fall, animation issues aside. This is a good series, one of the better straight-up action thrillers of recent vintage when it comes to matters of writing.
Hibike! Euphonium 2nd Season– Kyoto Animation
Director: Ishihara Tatsuya
Writer: Hanada Jukki
Schedule: Wednesday, October 05, 24:00
First Look: Hibike Euphonium is one of those shows where mass opinion and I are two ships passing in the night. I liked it well enough to finish it but I’m nowhere close to the level of adoration seen in some quarters. It’s a slightly above average KyoAni show that shares a lot of common characteristics with most of their catalogue – if that’s your bag, you’re going to be in good shape here I’m certain. For me, I’m going to have to see a good bit more from the sequel if I’m going to stay on-board for another season.
Kiitarou Shounen no Youkai Enikki– Creators in Pack
Schedule: Premieres Wednesday, 10/05, 22:33
First Look: This one is going to be a short (5 minutes) but looks modestly interesting. It’s the story about a boy who’s hypersensitive to the presence of youkai, and the youkai that make his life a constant adventure. Not really a blogging candidate but it might be a fun watch.
Chi’s Sweet Home (2016) – Marza Animation Planet
Director: Kusano Kiminori
Writer: Chiba Misuzu
Schedule: Premieres Sunday, 10/02, Time TBD
First Look: The original two seasons of Konami Kanata’s Chi’s Sweet Home from Madhouse may just be my favorite short anime ever. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the experience of sharing one’s life with a cat depicted with more humor and accuracy. Now it’s coming back as a 3D CGI from tiny Marza Animation Planet with an entirely new staff, and my emotions are decidedly mixed. I don’t suppose it can possibly be as charming in this form, but the manga is still one of the cutest and funniest around so I’ll be tuning in expecting to enjoy the experience as long as the animation isn’t too wretched (the previews aren’t especially encouraging).
Will Definitely Blog: WWW.Working, Natsume Yuujinchou Go, Haikyuu Season 3, Udon no Kuni, Sangatsu no Lion, Ajin Season 2. Six is a good number here, but four of them are sequels.
Sleeper Candidates: Boy… Udon no Kuni, again? Maybe Watashi ga Motete Dousunda. Or Drifters…
OVA/Movie: Slim pickings here.
Sakamoto desu ga? (Special) – 10/26/2016: The “true” ending of Sakamoto desu ga? finally gets its airing this October.
Boku no Hero Academia: Jump Festa 2016 Special – 11/27/2016: Boku no Hero Academia has already passed Shokugeki no Souma on the Weekly Shounen Jump pecking order, and with the ending of Ansatsu Kyoushitu and Bleach, it’s become a very important part of the magazine’s present and future. This year it gets the Jump Festa special slot, and a new season is coming sometime next year.
Theatrical: Another fairly busy season on the big screen.
Yowamushi Pedal: Spare Bike – 9/09/2016: Yowapeda returns to TV with its third season next January, but in the meantime we have this adaptation of Watanabe Wataru’s spinoff manga. The focus is on the early years of the third-year students in the main series.
The Red Turtle – 9/17/2016: Ghibli returns to theaters – sort of – with this collaboration with Dutch-British animator Michaël Dudok de Wit. The reviews from the European festival circuit have been superb, and the buzz is that the film is a near-lock for an Oscar nomination. Entirely free of dialogue, it’s the tale of a shipwrecked man whose efforts to leave his deserted island and foiled by the titular giant sea turtle. Visually this one looks stunning and while I don’t know if it’s anime, it may be as close as we ever get to another Ghibli feature.
Ajin Movie 3: Shougeki – 9/23/2016: Ajin are everywhere. My assumption is that these films are telling the story in more or less parallel fashion with the TV series.
Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni – 11/12/2016: MAPPA forays onto the big screen with this adaptation of much-lauded manga about a young newlywed girl coping with the travails of World War II in the small Hiroshima town of Kure. I don’t know the source material personally but this looks very promising.