With an industry putting out well over a hundred new series per year, the abundance of season preview articles in the anime blogosphere is understandable. Even if you are invested enough and have the time to follow a handful of new TV series every 3 months, finding out what might be worth paying attention can be a pain, making these preemptive guidelines potentially very helpful.
Let’s look at it through this site’s particular lens then, and highlight some upcoming shows that I feel will have noteworthy execution. Strong animation or otherwise compelling visuals, interesting staff, let’s see what Summer 2016 has to offer.
Mob Psycho 100
Director: Yuzuru Tachikawa
Character designer: Yoshimichi Kameda
Back when One-Punch Man’s finale aired, Yoshimichi Kameda mentioned that he was too busy to do key animation for it – at least in a major way. It was a bit unexpected since he had been one of its main assets, both as key animator and animation director. As it turns out, he had to pass on the finale of ONE’s series… to adapt another manga by ONE. An author seemingly blessed by the staff deities, since on top of Kameda’s designs the show will be directed by the beloved Yuzuru Tachikawa, and attract all sorts of animation talent.
All of Mob Psycho‘s promotional material is dominated by Kameda’s style, as it is bound to happen with one of the artists with the most visual presence in the industry. At this point he barely needs introduction – his unmistakable rough lineart that can range from pencil-like to sumi-e strokes, the wild key poses in his arcs of motion, his exaggerated facial expressions, the intense impact frames and angular effects, everything about his work is full of energy. The young Kameda idolized Imaishi, but nowadays it is hard to argue that he hasn’t surpassed him as the modern day Kanada Style heir. He has renounced to the position of Chief Animation Director for Mob Psycho 100 – jokingly saying it would be a pain – which means more time to spend with key animation and directly supervising episodes, overall a good deal for fans who value his idiosyncrasies.
Kameda’s plentiful contacts will help the production a lot, but let’s not understate Tachikawa’s position as he will be bringing talent into the fray as well. As a director he has always surrounded himself with strong animators – back on his Bleach episodes that started to turn heads around his way, he was already aided by his good friend Hironori Tanaka, who will no doubt appear in Mob Psycho as well. Even if his Death Parade colleagues are too busy, with people like Takashi Kojima working on Flip Flappers, this show should have a ridiculous amount of talent at disposal. Always take staff hype with a pinch of salt, but if a project is being called Space Dandy-like then you know it’s kind of a big deal.
Mob Psycho 100 won’t be able to escape the One-Punch Man comparisons, which should be bad news as that was a once-in-a-lifetime top action series. But will it really compare poorly? Mob has a way more attractive palette, the rough background art seems to complement Kameda’s wild strokes very well, and its everyday scenes already look a lot more playful. OPM’s downtime barely felt like it belonged in the same series as its incredible highlights, and the generally uninspired art direction made it just not interesting to look at outside the action scenes. As a 2 cours series Mob’s sakuga density will likely be lower, yet it already feels a lot more visually compelling. If the direction is as on point as the PVs make it look, I have a hard time imagining it not being stronger than its cousin series.
Character designer, Chief animation director: Masayuki Nonaka
If Kameda dominates Mob Psycho, then Rewrite is Masayuki Nonaka’s baby. Very animated baby, judging by that PV. Over the years Nonaka has developed a distinct style, characterized by its bounciness. His motion isn’t particularly delicate, and it doesn’t need to be – his timing catches the eye, his exaggeration is always fun, and simply seeing his characters move can fill you with joy. It’s not that he isn’t technically proficient, there’s a lot of high quality follow through in his cuts for one, he simply focuses on making his animation lively first and foremost. You can do more with less, but there’s nothing wrong with his approach either.
Admittedly his debut as character designer being on a project where he has to adapt itaru’s KEY monstrosities is unfortunate, but his Chief Animation Director role could be very good news as long as the schedule isn’t a disaster. It would be foolish to expect the whole series to be as strong as what we have seen so far, but it being only 1 cours should stop it from completely falling apart. Enishi Oshima – who recently has been quite busy with Sansha Sanyou, even solo key animating an episode – might rush to help Tensho once again, so that Nonaka isn’t the only top animator carrying the series’ flashiest scenes. It’s also possible that parts of the A-1 clique, such as interesting idolmaster or Magi staff, could show up as well. They naturally revolve around Aniplex series, hence why some of them made it to Haifuri last season despite it being produced at IMS. A project with imas producers like Rewrite seems like an easy target, but it’s impossible to tell whether that will translate into strong regular work or sporadic assistance. The potential is there.
These two are far and away the strongest candidates when it comes to animation, but that’s not all next season has to offer. Even if they can’t be trusted to impress on that level and consistently feature notable animation, there are still a bunch of series that will shine at least for a few episodes. Such is the case of New Game, Dogakobo’s latest series reuniting Mikakunin’s crowd. An exciting idea until you remember that most of their strong cartoony animators had their hands on Sansha Sanyou until recently, and that Mikakunin’s show-stealer was the aforementioned Nonaka. If they recover fast and get other collaborators like Aninabe to help we could get an impressive show, otherwise it simply will be a series with a strong understanding of what makes animation fun, with sparse highlights. Which is more than most anime can aspire to, to be fair! As far as harmless comedies go, Kono Bijutsubu ni wa Mondai ga Aru stands out a bit as well. A similar key staff to Oregairu’s second season and also produced at Studio feel., which could mean the comeback of the Tetsuya Takeuchi x Ryo Araki main animator team. Last time that happened the result was a constant outpour of understated character acting, which would be very welcome.
When it comes to action, Taboo Tattoo displays some potential. Shinya Hasegawa can’t do miracles all by himself, but if he collaborates with other strong J.C. Staff members like Kazunori Iwakura we could see a repeat of Danmachi #8, with lots of weighty and meaty combat. The progression of the fight we can see in the PV is a bit awkward, but at least it shows the intention to get wild with the camerawork. In that regard, the series to look out for is something many fans would avoid like the plague – Prisma Illya. The franchise has a rather ambitious approach to action, with a hybrid 2D+3DCG production that doesn’t always work but damn well tries. Even when the fights aren’t laid out in an interesting way they manage to frame them in a dynamic manner, and thanks to Kadokawa’s weirdly strong planning for the series it’s possible that people like Akira Hamaguchi once again found time to work on it. Just pray he wasn’t put in charge of questionable scenes instead.
There’s of course ufotable’s new series with the great Akira Matsushima in charge of the character designs, Tales of Zestiria the X. Their Tales series had been faring decently – release timing aside – in OVA form, and looking at the PVs with nothing but pans over questionable CG backgrounds you can’t help but feel that maybe it should have stayed that way. Bandai is tempting fate by planning a split cours series while the studio has to handle multiple other projects, seemingly having forgotten about GOD EATER’s struggle. The studio has enough skilled staff to ensure strong moments, perhaps episodes, but that will be it. Regalia: The Three Sacred Stars also earns a quick mention, simply by having seemingly strong 2D mecha, hardly a given in TV anime nowadays. The entire project seems like it escaped from a Bandai closet from a decade ago, perhaps explaining its welcome anachronism. Either way, 2D Kanta Suzuki robots are enough of a reason to celebrate.
It’s impossible to escape Love Live considering how massive the franchise has become, and I feel it’s worth a mention as well… just not one that I can frame very positively. While most complaints the franchise gets are regarding the awkward 2D+3DCG performances, its main issue is how sterile it is; the film made that even more apparent, by making the designs even fancier and maintaining a high level of polish, yet offering less character acting than you would find in your average TV series. When people without much visual literacy express disdain for high production values anime they dislike saying “it’s just well animated”, what they actually describe are instances like this. Good animation is purposeful, whether it’s flashy or not, and that’s not the case with Love Live. It’s barely ever expressive through motion, the framing is functional at best, all it has is on-model art throughout. And that’s by all means an achievement in this industry, the fact that Sunrise St8 regularly manages to schedule their projects with enough time is undoubtedly positive. But it’s unfortunate that one of the rare instances of solidly planned TV anime is let down by the visual direction this much, rather than the much more common opposite pattern. Perhaps Sunshine will improve upon its predecessors in this regard, but I wouldn’t count on it.
Director: Hiroshi Hamasaki
Character designer, Chief animation director: Yuuki Nobuteru
Not all TV anime is lucky enough to be supported by nuanced animation, but compelling visuals can sometimes be achieved with just functional or even flat out clunky motion. A director with a strong vision can almost singlehandedly elevate a project, which might be the case with Hiroshi Hamasaki’s Orange. His name alone makes you think about somber and drained scenery, but he understood that while the series is full of tragedy, it’s still about a fun group of friends. That’s why, by his standards at least, the show’s palette has some life to it. It’s too early to tell if he’ll nail the warmth of their relationships, but it’s always encouraging to see a very idiosyncratic director understand and adapt to source material, while still keeping their identity.
Battery is in a bit of a similar position; sure it has Takako Shimura’s beautiful designs, but it’s Tomomi Mochizuki’s grasp on the atmosphere what might elevate it. In his case one of the main means to achieve that is the sound direction, which he is often directly in charge of himself. And of course, we can’t talk about atmospheric series putting emphasis on the audio without mentioning Amanchu. SatoJun and Kenichi Kasai are helming that ship, as some sort of dream team for soothing anime. Amanchu’s goal to evoke the same feelings as Aria is very transparent, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
At first sight it seems like we’re approaching a new batch of series that doesn’t come close to the very hyped – and sometimes rather disappointing because of that – sakuga seasons, but with still plenty to look out for; two very strong contenders with completely different approaches to animation, a handful of series also covering many genres that will at least deliver interesting highlights, plus some shows that should stand out through directional finesse alone. Add to those any surprise seemingly coming out of nowhere and we’re off to what should be 3 months of decent current anime. If you enjoy well put together work, you won’t have to fully hide in your backlog bunker quite yet.
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