Looks like the dog days of summer are in our future – and that’s without another season of Dog Days.
I’m not too happy with the Summer 2017 schedule. It used to be that summer was a reliably weak season for anime, but that’s changed over the past few years – where it’s actually eclipsed fall on more than one occasion (and even proved to be the best season of 2013). But this year, it just looks weak – really weak. And with winter having been exceedingly thin and fall looking almost as bad as summer, 2017 may be on-course to be the worst anime season ever in terms of depth.
Spring at least has proved to be decent – certainly not exceptional (and paling in comparison to the twin colossus of 5 and 10 years ago), but, well- average. The problem comes when average starts to look exceptional, and that’s where we are with anime in 2017. 2016 may have been a blip, but unless something changes it really feels as if we’re in a spiral. I’m not going to call it a “death” spiral – yet – but downward is definitely on the table. Honestly, I think as a creative medium anime at this point is like a species so endangered that there isn’t enough genetic material left for it to survive. So it hangs on in zoos with names like “Bones” and “MAPPA” with captive breeding but can’t survive in the wild any longer. Yeah, Pluto is pretty great – but 8 episodes in 2020 (maybe) is a thin reed to cling to for optimism.
I know you’re sick of hearing about it, but I defy anyone to look objectively at the series announcements over the past six months and not conclude that anime has a very serious problem. The boxes are getting narrower and narrower, the target audiences more and more targeted – the house of pies is increasingly winning the day. Bland, creatively bankrupt (if you’re lucky) LN adaptations, imouto shows, cute girls doing cute things (this is expanding out now to cute monster girls, cute anthropomorphized inanimate object girls, etc.), Ikebukuro shows aimed at female otaku – if it doesn’t fit into the box it probably doesn’t get made. Great manga by the dozens are ignored while (frankly) garbage is adapted left and right.
In short, we’re probably screwed – more than ever before, it feels like the end is in sight. Animators make starvation wages, all but the elite studios hemorrhage money, and production committees control the creative process. Television Anime needs a savior, but I don’t see one on the horizon (though Sunrise and P.A. Works at least seem to be taking steps to give animators a fighting chance at a liveable wage and sustainable career). It will certainly survive as a medium, but it’s going to be on creative life-support unless something changes – the future I see is three or four watchable shows per season (in a good season), and even that’s thanks to holdouts like Bones and MAPPA.
But hey – we’re here to talk about Summer 2017 in specific, so we may as well do that. Let’s see, there’s Ballroom e Youkoso (in a charitable mood I’d probably include Production I.G. in that list of holdouts). There’s Tsurezure Children, which looks fascinatingly odd and somewhat perverse. There’s Shoukoku no Altair, MAPPA’s take on a very well-respected historical fantasy manga. And also from MAPPA (which is increasingly looking ready to join Bones as final bastions of creative ambition in anime) is Kakegurui, which honestly looks pretty silly to me but seems to be well-liked as a manga.
And in terms of stuff I’m looking forward to – really looking forward to – that’s about it.
And that’s not an exaggeration. The rest of it is straight-up wing and prayer stuff – the next series on my anticipation list (Keppeki Danshi! Aoyama-kun) seems suspiciously like it might be a short. After that it’s LNs ad nauseum, Nisio Isin sequels. Cute beastgirls doing cute things, idols, Free! ripoffs and a couple of random manga adaptations that might surprise. Against that backdrop Nagahama Hiroshi’s The Reflection looks like a colossus – despite being an almost total cipher. It’s not a pretty picture, and there’s not enough lipstick in the world for me to make it so.
I can’t really even do my usual breakdown by genre, style etc. – because the non-crap sample size is simply too small to draw any meaningful conclusions. Oh, well – on the plus side at least the preview isn’t going to gobble up most of your cache.
The sidebar poll is in the usual place – go get it. Without further ado, on to the previews:
Hajimete no Gal – NAZ
Director: Furukawa Hiroyuki
Writer: Momose Yuuichirou
Schedule: Premieres Sunday 06/25, Time TBD
First Look: Hajimete no Gal is a high school romcom about a guy desperate to lose his virginity, and the girl he hopes to lose it with. It’s probably way too optimistic to think that this might be a male version of B Gata H Kei (which was way underrated), but hey – a writer can dream. The manga seems to be modestly well-regarded, for whatever that’s worth.
Vatican Kiseki Chousakan – J.C. Staff
Director: Yonetani Yoshitomo
Writer: Minakami Seishi
Schedule: Premieres Tuesday 06/27, Time TBD
First Look: J.C. Staff has put Vatican Kiseki Chousakan in the hands of a very experienced director in Yonetani (Shoukugeki no Souma, Shakugan no Shana among others). It’s always interesting to see Japanese take on iconic Western institutions like the Catholic Church, and this supernatural mystery thriller sounds like a cross between Gosick and The Da Vinci Code. That might just be weird enough to be interesting – we’ll see.
Koi to Uso – LIDENFILMS
Director Takuno Seiki
Schedule: Premieres Monday, 07/03/17, Time TBD
First Look: The premise here is that society now forbids both love and lies, and determines everyone’s marriage partner when they turn 16. I actually think that’s kind of an interesting setup, but as I understand it the source manga has a reputation as quite the rage-inducer. I go into this one with, let’s say, morbid curiosity…
Keppeki Danshi! Aoyama-kun – TMS
Director: Ichikawa Kazuya
Writer: Gotou Midori
Schedule: Premieres Monday, 07/03, Time TBD
First Look: The cupboard is pretty much bare for true sports anime this summer (Ballroom e Youkoso and Nana Maru San Batsu sort of count, I guess – and Dive!!) – and summer is typically the season where we see them the most. So, needless to say it’d be nice if Keppeki Danshi! Aoyama-kun were to prove to be a winner. It’s a soccer anime based on a manga about a high-schooler soccer player so good he plays for the Japan U-17 team. This boy also happens to be so fastidious that he refuses to tackle (is his nickname Ronaldo?) or head the ball, and will only handle throw-ins wearing gloves. I’ve been worried that this show was going to be a short, but there’s no evidence of that yet. I don’t really know what to expect here but the staff is competent and so is TMS, so I’ll hope for the best.
Tsurezure Children – Studio Gokumi
Director: Kaneko Hiraku
Writer: Urahata Taatsuhiko
Schedule: Premieres Tuesday, 07/05, 23:15
First Look: It’s certainly unusual for a short to be this high on my anticipation list, but there are a few extenuating circumstances with Tsurezure Children. First off it’s not all that short at 15 minutes. Then there’s the fact that this season is so shallow in terms of really interesting prospects. But in addition to all that, Wakabayashi Toshiya’s manga seems genuinely interesting and agreeably weird.
Superficially this series seems straightforward enough – a series of vignettes about young love. But from what I understand Tsurezure Children goes pretty far off the published bus routes sometimes (like giving the phrase “Blood and Chocolate” a whole new meaning) and it’ll be interesting to see how much of that survives the transition to anime. Director Kaneko’s resume certainly inspires confidence that it will (it’s packed with kinky weirdness) – though not much confidence beyond that.
Nana Maru San Batsu – TMS
Director: Okuwaki Masaharu
Writer: Kakihara Yuuko
Schedule: Premieres Wednesday 07/05, Time TBD
First Look: In a season desperately in need of sleepers, Nana Maru San Batsu might just be one. The idea is inviting – a story about a group of high schoolers involved in the exciting world of competitive quizzes. I could see the simple and straightforward charm of something like Kabukibu! in this, and TMS is a studio that’s generally pretty good at capturing that vibe. The staff is more or less competent and experienced, and the manga this show is based on really isn’t bad at all.
Made in Abyss – Kinema Citrus
Director: Kojima Masayuki
Writer: Kurata Hideyuki
Schedule: Premieres Friday, 07/07 – Time TBD
First Look: Bones little brother Kinema Citrus is in charge of this adaptation of Tsukushi Akihito’s manga, centered around the titular “Abyss” – a massive cave system that draws explorers from all over the world. There’s a robot as well, and despite the rather cute art style it’s my understanding that Made in Abyss gets pretty dark. This is a solid mid-tier pick with some sleeper potential.
Shoukoku no Altair – MAPPA
Director: Furuhashi Kazuhiro
Writer: Takagi Noboru
Schedule: Premieres Friday, 07/07, 26:25
Episodes: 2 Cour
First Look: Shoukoku no Altair is certainly the co-headliner going into Summer 2017 along with Ballroom e Youkoso. It’s also more evidence that MAPPA is staking out a place as one of the rare studios committed to doing more than formula pap designed to please a production committee, and doing so by relying on veterans who were a part of the industry when such series were more common. In this case they’ve brought in Furuhashi Kazuhiro, most famous by far for his work on Rurouni Kenshin.
In fact, Shoukoku has a really strong staff overall, two cours to work with, and one of the better historical shounen manga around as a source material. It may not be the adaptation placed in a Turkic setting that I dream of at night, but it’s still a keeper – the story of a young noble in a “stratocracy” on the verge of war. This is a pretty complicated story, with a huge dash of politics to go along with the military aspects and a large and diverse cast. The manga is ongoing, which always poses its own set of challenges, but apart from that Shoukoku no Altair is probably the safest bet of the summer.
Ballroom e Youkoso – Production I.G.
Director: Itamu Yoshimii
Writer: Suimitsu Kenichi
Schedule: Premieres Saturday, 07/08, 26:08
First Look: Speaking of “Ballroom”, this is indeed the other series that sits comfortably atop my expectations list for summer. There are actually a couple of ballroom dance-themed manga out there right now, but this one is generally regarded as the best – and I certainly like what I’ve seen of it. Like Shoukoku this one is the product of an elite studio, though the key staff is considerably less experienced. That’s now always a bad thing, mind you.
In a sense, I think Ballroom e Youkoso is a traditional sports manga – it just happens to be about an non-traditional sports manga topic, like Chihayafuru or Kabukibu!. You have the socially awkward protagonist who finds himself through the sport, romance, the thrill of competition… The manga is a big winner for Shounen Magazine, and mangaka Takeuchi Tomo’s writing and art are outstanding. Again we have an ongoing manga (9 volumes in this case) being adapted, and that always lends an air of uncertainty. But apart from that, “Ballroom” seems to be another safe bet in a season mostly bereft of them.
Centaur no Nayami – Haoliners Animation League
Director: Konno Naoyukii
Writer: Machida Touko
Schedule: Premieres Sunday, 07/09, 22:00
First Look: Cute beastgirls doing cute things is the latest trend for anime to try and cash in on this overused trope while giving the appearance (usually falsely) of doing something different. At this point I’m highly skeptical of the genre as a whole, but a couple of people whose opinions I trust seem to think Centaur no Nayami is at least a modestly dark and creative spin on it. This is a complete flyer for me, but I’ll give it an episode or two to surprise me.
THE REFLECTION – DEEN
Director: Nagahama Hiroshi
Writer: Suzuki Yasuyuki
Schedule: Premieres Saturday, 07/22, 23:00
First Look: If nothing else THE REFLECTION has intrigue stemming from its unusual pedigree. Director Nagahama requires no introduction, though Mushishi notwithstanding Aku no Hana certainly proves his presence alone isn’t enough to avoid a trainwreck. We also have Stan Lee on-board as co-creator, his first time in that role since the uneven but endearing HEROMAN (Mr. Lee apparently believes anime’s Caps Lock key is permanently depressed). And writer Yasuyuki is much better-known as an animator, though he has a lengthy anime resume. We even have music from legendary producer/composer Trevor Horn (best known to many for “Video Killed the Radio Star”, the first video in MTV history).
We don’t know a tremendous amount about the premise, which not surprisingly represents a take on the superhero genre. After the mysterious event in the title people in various parts of the world sport newly-awakened superpowers. Some use them to become heroes, some villains (yes, this sounds more than a bit like Boku no Hero Academia). The cast looks strong, especially the almost-peerless Miki Shinichirou in the lead role. THE REFLECTION is certainly an unknown quantity, but there’s more than enough here to spark my interest going in.
First Look: Thank goodness for MAPPA, really, because while there are top-rate series occasionally popping up from other studios, it seems as if only MAPPA and Bones are aiming high with any real consistency. This show is based off a well-reviewed manga about a high school where the wealthy, elite kids are taught “the art of the deal” (sorry if that makes you wince) – through the curriculum of high stakes gambling. If I’m honest that sounds kind of dumb to me, but people I respect really seem to like the manga and even if Hayashi-sensei is pretty new to the director’s role, he has a good pedigree and the staff is (as usual for MAPPA) strong and experienced.
Katsugeki/Touken Ranbu – ufotable
Director: Shirai Toshiyuki
Schedule: Premieres July 2017, Time TBA
First Look: There’s not much reason to expect a lot out of this latest cash-on on the phenomenally popular game franchise about swords anthropomorphized as bishounen. But this is supposedly the more “serious” and plot-driven of 2017’s two Touken Ranbu anime adaptations, and ufotable tends to put out some of the better-looking TV anime in terms of animation (especially well-integrated CGI). I’ll be very surprised if I end up sticking with “Katsugeki” but I’ll give it a shot for a couple of weeks.
Clione no Akari – drop
Director: Ishikawa Naoya
Schedule: Premieres July 2017, Time TBD
First Look: Clione no Akari is a total wing and a prayer job. It’s based on a net novel about a bullied girl who disappears from school, until two months later her two best friends receive a mysterious email telling them of a festival taking place in a nearby town. I’m not even sure why I’m previewing it to be honest – the director is basically a newbie, even the studio is new, and net novels, well… Something in the concept art looks mildly appealing to me and the season is thin, so- whatever.
Will Definitely Blog: Ballroom e Youkoso, Shoukoku no Altair. Have I ever gone into a season with only two surefire blogging candidates? I’m too lazy to check, I can’t think of one off the top of my head. If Tsurezure Children were full-length I’d probably include it, and it’s overwhelmingly likely I’ll cover it as well anyway.
Sleeper Candidates: Nana Maru San Batsu, Made in Abyss, and that’s about it. Maybe Hajimete no Gal in a stretch?
OVA/Movie: Slightly better that the TV side relative to average (on paper).
Shokugeki no Souma: ni no Sara (OVA) – 07/04/2017: Our Independence Day gift is another OVA from Shokugeki no Souma. Is it possible this could be the last we see of Souma on screen? It’s not likely but not impossible – the manga has been eclipsed by a few other WSJ titles in terms of sales, and it’s not as if the anime thrived on disc revenue.
91 Days: Day 13 – 07/05/17: This is the unaired “13th Episode” of the superb crime drama from 2016. I have no idea about the content but anything new in this mythology is a welcome addition.
Haikyuu!!: Tokushuu! Harukou Volley ni Kaketa Seishun – 08/04/2017: Why, that title’s so long it could almost be a light-novel. This bundled OVA is a look back at the prelims and “interviews” with the players. Should be an amusing trifle, but with no Haikyuu!! 4th season announced yet it’ll have to tide non-moviegoers over for a while.
Mahoutsukai no Yome: Hoshi Matsu Hito (OVA) – 08/14/17: The preview OVAs for Mahoutsukai conclude, with an eye towards the full series premiere later this year. I don’t think the story here is quite as magical as the visuals, but each OVA in this series is certainly an event.
Binan Koukou Chikyuu Bouei-bu LOVE! LOVE! LOVE! – 08/26/17: The Earth Defense club is back for one more adventure because, you know, love is never over.
Theatrical: Slim Pickings, especially for a summer season.
Mary to Majo no Hana – 07/08/2017: Studio Ghibli may not be dead after all (Miyazaki’s latest un-retirement is apparently a real thing) but it’ll be interesting to see what Yonebayashi Hiromasa and his new studio, Ponoc, bring to the table in their first feature – and how it fares at the box office. Yonebayashi-sensei is the most commercially successful Ghibli director apart from the big two, and the preview here makes Mary to Majo look pretty much indistinguishable from a Ghibli film. The source material is a children’s book from the legendary British novelist Mary Stewart, which likewise seems right in-line with something Ghibli would do. Trailer: