As most season previews focus heavily on premises and vague hopes that the execution will live up to them, we continue to do our job to curate upcoming shows supported by strong directors and staff that can properly articulate their vision – at the end of the day, good anime tends to be a more satisfying watch than the idea of a good anime. Let’s see what awaits us!
Kevin: Not that these previews are ranked according to our expectations, but we couldn’t start with anything else. Yoh Yoshinari’s baby seems to want to take all forms imaginable – starting as part of a government-funded OVA to train animators, moving onto a crowdfunded sequel film (which admittedly would have existed without Kickstarter too, but let’s forget the technicalities for a moment) that also got a limited theatrical run, and now finally on TV as a split cours broadcast. We might have had to pay a price to allow this final miracle to happen, though; not only does Netflix intend to keep the show hostage, but the staff isn’t fully returning. Shuhei Handa replacing his master as the new character designer is even cute to some degree, but the loss of its original art director is flat out a downgrade – one that hurts even more when you realize that Kaneko is gone to a light novel adaptation with environments that look straight up lifted from a certain school for small witches. This is an acceptable price to pay for more LWA though, especially when you consider that the episodes themselves appear to be in very good hands, already including people like the legendary Masayuki! People who attended the preview screenings pointed out the amount of motion in the first three episodes was astounding as well, so the series might survive its transition to TV well enough in the end. And I get to keep the show’s introduction here rather short too, since I’ve already said I will be covering the series weekly anyway. Look forward to my ramblings about whimsical magic adventures!
Liborek: Shingo Natsume, the now widely acclaimed director of Space Dandy and One-Punch Man, is back once again for another adaptation at studio Madhouse. With the support of regular animators from his previous works like Norifumi Kugai and Gosei Oda, we can expect lots of neat character acting plus some outbursts of delightful deformations during scenes asking for exaggeration. Other people who worked on One-Punch Man seem to have joined the project as well, Keisuke Kojima and Hidehiko Sawada included, but it’s not just a reunion of old names. Many of OPM‘s main animators have been busy elsewhere, while Mob Psycho 100‘s animation director Kanako Yoshida has been brought onboard to support Oda as chief animation director. You may be asking how both Oda and Yoshida can take on such an important role when they were busy working on Mob Psycho just a season ago, but the answer is straightforward – ACCA simply seems to be trying to get away with the tight schedule standard TV productions are known for at this point. They did manage to screen the first two episodes in December at least, so the situation may not be that dire, but the problems usually appear in the second half of the show and sometimes even in very unexpected places (looking at you, Flip Flappers). Maybe it’s time to call DR MOVIE to the rescue! Art director Seiko Yoshioka is also a name to look out for, as her previous work in the role was on Seraph of the End, which undoubtedly had fantastic backgrounds. Judging by the PV alone however, her work here seems to be more restrained and hardly as impressive.
Kevin: Yasuhiro Takemoto’s wide critical acclaim seems to come almost exclusively from his work on Hyouka and The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya – by all means deserved praise, but focusing on those exclusively doesn’t paint the full picture. This is the same Takemoto whose comedic sense was influenced by Tsutomu Mizushima during Haré+Guu, and the one who went on to debut as series director on Full Metal Panic Fumoffu. As much as he excels with grounded material and dignified work, he’s always had a penchant for ridiculous comedies. In that regard, seeing him handle Maidragon is no surprise.
The team he’s assembled in the end is also no surprise, since it’s also an obvious comeback. Miku Kadowaki’s soft designs are as cute as ever, and she’ll by supported by Nobuaki Maruki as Chief animation director to complete the Amagi Brilliant Park crew; Maruki might seem like a weird choice considering he’s usually a detail-oriented animator, but it seems like some gags will exploit the contrast between the generally simplistic visuals and hyperdetailed elements. And beyond these big names, this seems like a fun opportunity for the animation staff as a whole. Recent KyoAni projects have had a terrifyingly high linecount, with intricate designs and a focus on elements like instruments and detailed sign language that wouldn’t have been feasible just about anywhere else. Maidragon is quite the departure in this regard, with its simple designs and a less demanding aesthetic. It’ll clearly be no Nichijou, but the PVs already hint at the animators having lots of fun with the cartoony style, and we should expect recurring outbursts of ridiculous animation. How often that happens will likely depend on the effect the poor timing has on the project and the priority it’s given to begin with –
the studio won’t be leading the production committee for a change, so (they did in the end!) they might allocate it fewer resources and have the staff focus on Violet Evergarden’s preproduction instead. Even at its worst it will be in very capable hands though, so rest assured!
Ryan: The return of my spirit anime and venerable
goddess damegami Aqua is an occasion worth celebrating on its own, but let’s not forget what a lovely surprise the first season was in the animation department. Not only is Shinya Takahashi a powerhouse animator whose skills extend all the way from action and FX to incredibly fun character animation, but there’s also Kazunori Ozawa who served as the go-to man for Megumin’s explosions previously, so there’s no doubt he’ll be making a return to show just how graceful the most powerful magic in the world is. Koichi Kikuta’s designs in general are a blessing for those who want to get creative with their cuts, allowing for plenty of self-expression. Admittedly that was used for…nefarious purposes at some points in the original (sometimes because of Kikuta himself!), but these animators are just too hard to control.
Yojo Senki: Saga of Tanya the Evil (PV)
Director: Yutaka Uemura
Character designer, Chief animation director: Yuji Hosogoe
Main animators: Shosuke Ishibashi, Shinichi Kurita, Hiroyuki Horiuchi
Effects director: Takashi Hashimoto
Liborek: It’s a well known fact, or it should be at least, that studio Madhouse right now is just a shadow of its former self. Their talent is constantly leaving and the producers are no exception. In 2011, co-founder Masao Maruyama left the studio and established MAPPA. Two years ago, producer Keiji Mita followed in his footsteps and left to create studio VOLN, taking the vast majority of Hunter x Hunter‘s animation staff in the process. Now Takuya Tsunoki, the producer of Madhouse’s latest original anime (Death Parade – Winter 2015), has left and founded studio NUT (hehe). Yojo Senki reunites Death Parade‘s character designer Shinichi Kurita, main animator Shosuke Ishibashi and Death Billiards‘ senior key animator Hiroyuki Horiuchi under the same roof again. Kaiji‘s character designer Haruhito Takada is credited for sub-character design, former Madhouse staffer You Moriyama is doing prop design and I’m sure we’ll see more names associated with Madhouse pop up on this show in the future. The question is – how long can Madhouse survive before it falls apart completely?
Oh, yeah. The show itself. The strong crew I mentioned will likely do good work with what they’ve been given.
Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju Season 2 (CM)
Director: Mamoru Hatakeyama
Character designer: Mieko Hosoi
Kevin: Mamoru Hatakeyama’s take on Rakugo is as much of a prestige project as it gets. It personally makes me wish it was able to fully live up to its potential, but consider that relative frustration over what could have been one of the greatest shows in general. This genuinely staged series about performance undoubtedly has all the elements of a masterpiece, and that’s something I can appreciate even as I was left relatively cold by the distance to the viewer it sometimes chose to establish. As someone who loves anime with an attention to gesture and detail the likes of KyoAni directors put out, Rakugo definitely scratches that itch, but it compares unfavorably to those – and more importantly, to its ideal self. I don’t believe in motion as the sole vehicle of expression of course, but only at its absolute best – like the spectacular episode 9 – did the show make up for its rigidness with framing that conveyed the emotions powerfully enough. In some regards Rakugo makes me wish it had existed as a movie instead; that might have given it the production muscle to articulate its character acting, and chances are its refined style would feel more at home in a theatrical space to begin with.
But while it fundamentally lacked in the animation department, the first season was rather polished, a feat they accomplished by almost wrapping up the production before broadcast; a rare occurrence they achieved thanks to the fact that the beginning of the series recycles material from the OVAs… and seemingly thanks to an unrelated show like Grimgar, because the anime industry is a curious place. Mieko Hosoi had to finish her design work very early since she had to return to her partner Ryosuke Nakamura, as they both were extremely involved with Grimgar’s production. That show ended up being a schedule nightmare, but its existence also incentivized Rakugo to become a healthier production endeavor. I’m not convinced the sequel will follow the exact same path, and the lack of extensive preview footage this time around will surely make pessimistic people worry, but I doubt it’ll fall apart either.
Ryan: Split cours shows appearing on the preview typically means there’s not much to say other than expect more of what we saw in the first half, so I’ll do just that. Masayuki Kunihiro and Go Kimura – two of ufotable’s top animators – should be returning on a show helmed by the legendary Akira Matsushima to provide more exciting action scenes, though hopefully the same can’t be said of the photography team’s efforts this time around. I actually do like ufotable’s digital-heavy work more often than not, but some scenes definitely felt they polevaulted right over the line when it came to their reliance on aggressive postprocessing. That and the less than ideal production timing for the studio are the two dangers the sequel will face.
Kevin: Hiroshi “ahoboy” Ikehata has returned to Gonzo once again, and animation accompanies him as usual. For quite a few years his name has been synonymous with young talent – he would find a group of up and coming strong animators and give them chances they might not necessarily find otherwise, until the point they gained enough industry presence where they could start careers of their own. Many top animators have been under his tutelage, from Yoshimichi Kameda to Shingo Fujii, and already established figures like Hisao Yokobori and more recently Tamotsu Ogawa often joined the party as well. And while his current crew might not be able to compare to those he led in the past, he still manages to find new animation talent like Hisaya Kuwabara and Hajime Mitsuda to make his projects joyful to watch.
The first episode premiered early so there’s plenty of material to sample already, though to be honest there weren’t many big surprises – as long as you ignore a certain someone escaping from their duties at MAPPA to animate some neat pieces of action. The simple designs are very compatible with the show’s rubbery approach to animation. Its looseness is filled with character as well, it’s not as if everything is sacrificed for the sake of fluidity – perfectly represented by the aforementioned Tamotsu Ogawa. There were some standout sequences with a much more solid feel to them as well, it seems to have quite the visual range. I worry about long term consistency if the action is as ubiquitous as in the first episode, since this is a lot more taxing than the team’s previous show Sore ga Seiyuu. If there’s something I’m uncertain about though, it’s…well, the show itself. I have no issue with puerile anime and enjoy a fair amount of them myself, but I wasn’t particularly sold on the first episode. Usually, high tension TV anime doesn’t have the animation strength to live up to their energy, but Akiba’s Trip seems to suffer from the opposite issue. With a premise this ridiculous and a team that can seemingly support it, ahoboy could go crazier than this. Here’s hoping.
Liborek: I’ll be honest – I was forced to write about this, but it’s still worth addressing. If you like the very concept of motion, even coming at the cost of spatial recognition and subjecting your eyes to the relentless assault of filters that GoHands has consistently produced since Mardock Scramble, this show is for you. If you want to see anime visuals reach new lows, this show is also for you! Shingo Suzuki is a good animator, but I’ll never understand how anyone can sit through his and GoHands’ visual brand considering how legitimately painful they are to watch. They remain a grotesque example that a high amount of movement doesn’t necessarily mean good animation.
Scum’s Wish (PV)
Director: Masaomi Ando
Character designer: Keiko Kurosawa
Kevin: A bit of a speculative pick for a change; the shows we feature in these previews usually make it here due to the presence of noteworthy core staff, strong animation crews or industry hints that it’ll otherwise be a notable project. And to be honest, Scum’s Wish doesn’t seem to have that pedigree. It would be foolish to turn a blind eye to promotional videos however, as misleading as they can be, and this show looks fairly nice in them. A sense of delicacy you wouldn’t expect, and a rather impressive dedication to animating detailed hair. So with way more caveats than usual, consider Scum’s Wish our choice for perhaps executed in a capable manner, until the inescapable schedule collapse anyway because TV anime is a hellish place.
Ai Mai Mi Season 3 (CM)
Every production role, and some voice acting ones: Itsuki Imazaki
Ryan: If Itsuki Imazaki has escaped from a mysterious institution, then I don’t want anyone to take him away. Ai Mai Mi isn’t much of a pure animation bonanza, but Imazaki’s
insanity creative flourish results in more visual curveballs in a 3 minute span than in the entire run of your average show. Sometimes the hilarious character designs change dramatically for the sake of one simple gag, sometimes the backgrounds are a genuine trip, and sometimes there’s a detailed Lamborghini for absolutely no reason whatsoever. This is the kind of work only enabled by the hand of a technically superb animator who is willing to embrace aesthetics that would generally be deemed poor, and has absolute freedom on a show he might genuinely produce all by himself. I love you, Imazaki. I love you.
Last season we sincerely pointed out there was an exceptional overlap of projects brimming with talent, and it’s with the same honesty that we think that this winter season…doesn’t. There are some other shows worth keeping an eye on like the new Dogakobo x Ohta collaboration Gabriel Dropout and the debut work of Maruyama’s new M2 studio Onihei, but even these represent the same general trend; even the productions gifted with particularly gifted people are limited by various circumstances, so keep your expectations in check. This isn’t to say there aren’t anime to look out for though, let’s not get overly pessimistic! The industry is large enough that even when it’s resting – if you can call the brief breaks between hectic projects that – there are many things worth checking out.