A new season approaches with more titles than anyone can watch, so it’s our self-imposed duty to keep on curating the ones handled by the most capable creators. Strong premises still require skilled directors and animation teams to support them after all! So, which Summer 2017 titles are most likely to live up to their potential?
Welcome to the Ballroom (PV)
Director: Yoshimi Itazu
Character designer: Takahiro Kishida
Chief animation director: Takahiro Chiba, Masayuki Honda
Action animation director: Takashi Mukouda, Boya Liang
Main animator: Shingo Takenaka
Kevin: The prestige title of the season, supported by a lineup of creators that most fans wouldn’t have dared to even dream about. Competitive dancing, much like any constant-motion activity, is an immense hurdle for hand drawn animation. Assembling a robust staff wasn’t so much a nice extra, but rather an actual requirement. Much of the team is returning from Haikyuu! – they have the same animation producer after all – but the additions and tweaks make it a truly spectacular crew. The series director Yoshimi Itazu started attracting attention in the mid 00s, after his notable output on Satoshi Kon’s Paprika and his promotion to chief animation director for the last few episodes of Dennou Coil. I’d argue that the only reason his name is still relatively obscure is precisely his skill; as someone who gets requested for his theatrical level output, he has been very selective with his projects and stayed away from TV anime for the most part. But now he’s tackling a project in that space, even making his series director debut while he’s at it. He had already directed the wonderful short film Pigtails, and even temporarily been tasked as Kon’s replacement to finish The Dreaming Machine, but this is definitely a new kind of challenge for him.
Thankfully, Itazu isn’t alone. Trustworthy members of the Haikyuu! animation team like Takahiro Kishida and Takahiro Chiba have returned for a project with aesthetic similarities but a clear
neck voice of its own. What’s even more interesting are the new additions, however. Shingo Takenaka has appeared as main animator, which feels very appropriate; just like Itazu, he’s a Production I.G-affiliated artist who is much closer to the theatrical space than the TV animation industry. People often call any series they perceive to have outstanding animation to be movie-level, but here we’re talking about the real deal…as long as production realities allow for that, but for now the promotional material is very reassuring. Its lineup of action directors, with the bold Haikyuu! star Boya Liang but also Takashi Mukouda in particular, hint at very interesting changes to the approach to the animation when compared to its predecessor of sorts. I’m intrigued, excited, and confident enough to say I’ll be covering this series over here next season – not even annoying streaming services will stop me!
Director: Yoshiyuki Asai
Character designer: Yukei Yamada
Action director: Shun Enokido, Takahito Sakazume
Ryan: Fate is back, one more time. Things aren’t quite the same this time around, though. Not only is this an entirely different style of Grail war, it’s also the first TV series in the franchise embracing a webgen aesthetic (when it comes to the animation at least, the less said about the color and general composite the better), courtesy of its action directors Shun Enokido and Takahito Sakazume. These two already made their Fate debut with their impressive work on a number of CMs for Fate/Grand Order, which serve as bitesize glimpses of the exhilarating action we’ll hopefully see within this show. Exciting as it is to have people with such skill in charge, especially in a show where they’ll be able to take full advantage of the ridiculous clashes, the hype surrounding Apocrypha doesn’t stem solely from that. Another interesting factor has been added to the mix in the form of character designer Yukei “UK” Yamada. It’s no secret that he’s quite the fan of the franchise. In fact, he’s so addicted to its mobage F/GO that just look at what people kept gifting him for his birthday. Anime creators don’t always get to work on things they’re truly passionate about, so seeing his name on the staff list during its reveal brought a smile to my face. But personal interests aside, his presence is notable as he’s a part of team imas – the crew responsible for adapting The [email protected]. His involvement in the original 2011 series was fleeting, but he had a more active role in both its sequel movie and the adaptation of Cinderella Girls, giving him a chance to work closely with both Atsushi Nishigori’s wonderful animation designs and Yusuke “fugo” Matsuo’s more intricate ones. Friends who’ve worked together have a tendency to help out one another on their projects whenever possible, so it’s likely that we’ll be seeing parts of the imas team turn up for an episode or two to assist. I wouldn’t bet on names like Megumi Kouno and Toshifumi Akai; my gut tells me they have their hands full on an unannounced project, but it’s hard to go wrong with most people on that team since many outstanding creators were involved. And if the bigger names do happen to turn up, then I’ll be more than happy to be proven wrong!
Perhaps the biggest unknown factor with Apocrypha is how the director Yoshiyuki Asai will approach it, though. If you recognise his name, then it’s likely through Charlotte, his directorial debut. It’s something of an…unfortunate debut, since his interesting touches within the show were cruelly overshadowed by the mess that a certain nurse-loving writer had concocted for him. Now he’s in charge of a property that even the most diehard of Type-Moon fans seem to have cast by the wayside – an ominous sign that we could witness a possible repeat of Charlotte, but also one that actually has me weirdly excited. We know that adaptations can go far and beyond the source material already, and the less inspired the material is, the more a gifted director can mold it to their image. Whether or not that actually happens is down to Asai himself, but I’d like to believe that he can pull it off, especially with the team that’s gathered around this project.
Katsugeki: Touken Ranbu (PV)
Director: Toshiyuki Shirai
Character designer: Approximately half the studio
Sword-fight animator: Mitsuru Obunai, Go Kimura, Masayuki Kunihiro
Kevin: The anime adaptation plans for the mega-popular Touken Ranbu browser game were far from standard. Perhaps having learned from its unfortunate DMM cousin squandering even more massive popularity, they took this project very seriously. It was going to get not one but two TV series, seemingly with opposite approaches: the mostly lighthearted Touken Ranbu: Hanamaru at studio Dogakobo, plus ufotable’s gritty Katsugeki: Touken Ranbu. The former appears to have pleased the fanbase, but it’s Katsugeki that stands a chance to be an immense hit. This darker and action-packed take on the franchise is by all means ufotable’s big TV project in 2017, which makes their choice of staff a bit of a surprise…on a surface level, that is. Writing them off as newbies would be a bit of a mistake. So while this is Toshiyuki Shirai’s first opportunity as series director, he had already gained enough much trust to have full control over the climax of Unlimited Blade Works in 2015. Praised within the company for his ardent passion and with a knack for action, this feels like a debut tailored for him.
There’s another major unexpected decision when it comes to the staff, one that I can explain but perhaps not justify. Katsugeki has 8 character designers, mostly young ufotable women, who have been assigned a character in particular. This feels like an attempt to replicate the effect of games like Touken Ranbu itself, which feature the work of many different artists. Since anime requires a sense of harmony (even with cases like Re:Creators, where characters appearing from different worlds is the main point), adaptations generally do away with that by having a single designer handling the whole cast. Katsugeki does have a fairly well-established identity in the end, despite keeping the multiple artists approach. All’s well that ends well, except for the fact that if they intend to keep them all supervising their own characters this will only hurt the production. It’s not as if assigning animators to characters is new at all, but with the way anime goes and considering the number of players here, this would be highly inefficient for no good reason. Thankfully ufotable’s got the production muscle to shoulder many things, so I wouldn’t mourn the project quite yet – the opposite, in fact! Its excellent lineup of sword-fight animators, supervised by actual experts on the field, is reason enough to be excited; Mitsuru Obunai is always going to be my personal favorite ufotable ace, but the versatile Masayuki Kunihiro and Go Kimura – perhaps the most adept at animating blades of them all – will no doubt put out excellent work as well. Akira Matsushima is conspicuously absent from any key staff list, so here’s hoping that he shows up as a regular key animator now that he’s been freed from tiresome supervision work. I’m not as confident in this case as I am with Ballroom, but perhaps I’ll return to this series to write on the blog. We’ll see!
Liborek: It’s evident that Kinema Citrus isn’t quite what it used to be. 4 years ago, its co-founder Yuichiro Matsuka parted ways with the studio to establish studio 3hz, which the company never quite recovered from. He brought many of the studio’s greatest animation talents to his new endeavor, and thus Kinema Citrus suddenly found itself in a difficult situation. Thankfully, the contact list of CEO Muneki Ogasawara is also stacked with talent – mainly directors in his case – and the studio isn’t afraid to both hire and nurture promising young animators. This is easily their strongest lineup of creators in the last few years, although it might not have occurred with the best project. I’d rather not spend too much time talking about its content since they’re seemingly trying to keep things under wraps, but let’s just say that Made in Abyss will be a truly unpleasant experience for those who are fooled by its charming adventure surface. Unless the explicit content is toned down an immense amount, there are scenes to put off right about everyone.
That said, it should be a (perhaps grotesque) visual treat! Kazuchika Kise, a rather famous Production I.G affiliated animator, is in charge of adapting its non-traditionally cute character designs. It’s hard to guess if he’s involved in the actual animation process, as his past work at the studio only included an endcard and key animation for one episode of Yuyushiki (2013). He doesn’t appear to be credited for chief animation direction on the official website though, so perhaps we won’t see much hands-on work by him. The superstars don’t stop there however, as the older of the Yoshinari brothers is in charge of designing the world’s bizarre creatures. In his case actual animation work is to be expected, since he collaborates with Kinema Citrus as often as his well-known slow working pace allows. He’s an animator genuinely pushing boundaries of coloring and post-proccessing in 2D animation, and a show with such strong design work offers him an excellent canvas. As you can see in the PV, the background art really stands out when compared to your average TV anime. Art studio Inspired (who recently participated on projects such as Your Name and Flip Flappers) is in charge of the backgrounds, with its CEO Osamu Masuyama credited for art direction. Overall, I’m not expecting a show overflowing with constant animation highlights, but rather a visually outstanding anime from a studio that seems to have gotten a second wind.
Kevin: Studios in decadence is a bit of an overarching theme in this cheerful preview we’ve put together. Over the last few months we’ve been documenting Dogakobo’s struggles, as they’ve lost key creators left and right. And New Game in particular is arguably in an even worse position, since on top of that it lost its co-director Ryohei Takeshita and one of its most talented chief supervisors to last season’s Eromanga Sensei. I have to admit that I’d accepted a considerable downgrade for the sequel, but the promotional video that surfaced recently fills me with some hope. The original series was an unexpected delight, not due to its quality but because of their unexpected approach; I thought cartoony elements would be much more prevalent, but instead it was filled with down-to-earth animation, quiet acting and excellent attention to the surroundings. The series used tons of 3D layouts to construct the workplace where almost the entire series occurs, then made sure to keep every small change within it consistent but also constantly evolving. It’s not as if we’re talking about the most realistic anime – it sure doesn’t try to be – but I felt a very cohesive production effort to make it feel like a believable workplace, populated by a very likable cast to boot. So far I’m sensing similar craft sensibilities from the sequel, which is enough of a reason for me to be excited. Chances are that by the end of it we’ll see endless lists of animation directors trying to keep it polished, but I still want to believe in the weakened Dogakobo.
Liborek: Continuing with the topic from my previous entry Made in Abyss, Princess Principal‘s director Masaki Tachibana was also one of the founding members of Kinema Citrus. He parted ways with the studio in 2013 as well, but didn’t immediately follow Yuichiro Matsuka to 3hz. Instead he became a freelancer, though he clearly keeps an excellent relationship with his ex-coworkers; just like how he returned to Kinema Citrus to direct the anime adaptation of Barakamon (2014), now he’s joining 3Hz to handle an original anime. One point I’d like to note is that this doesn’t quite seem to be a “studio 3Hz original anime” per se. The concept appears to have been developed by the production committee that owns it, which then asked studios closely tied to them (3hz and Actas) to animate it. Other good examples of similar practices involving these companies would be Girls und Panzer and Celestial Method. It’s the opposite approach to studios submitting their own concepts to distributors and then assembling the committee. Always good to keep these things in mind!
Technicalities aside though, let’s return to what should make this production interesting. 3hz’s animator Yukie Akiya (yet another creator with Kinema Citrus roots) is adapting Kouhaku Kuroboshi‘s original designs, as well as being tasked with chief animation direction alongside Actas’ Kimitake Nishio. Both have a fair amount of decent work under their sleeves, and this is already a hint of how the workload might be split. Perhaps we’ll see a fairly even distribution, with each studio’s chief supervisor alternating depending on the company that handles the episode. The art director Nobutaka Ike is arguably the most interesting figure here though, as he’s the artist behind the backgrounds of Satoshi Kon’s filmography. Not all his recent TV efforts have been incredible, but PriPri‘s promotional videos revealed really solid backdrops and architecture, so that’s certainly something to look out for. We might even witness an appearance of Ryouma Ebata as the opening or ending director, considering everyone involved. Only time will tell, but this show should prove to be one of the more interesting outings of the upcoming season.
Mahoujin Guru Guru (PV)
Ikuo Geso Hiroshi Ikehata
Character designer: Naoyuki Asano
Kevin: This isn’t Mahoujin Guru Guru‘s first appearance on this website, and that’s not because we covered the original 1994 series. The actual reason why it’s a recurring title is because this remake has had a bit of a troubled life – definitely a case worth checking out if you’re curious about what might happen if an anime director gets fired. With that settled though, the show appears to be in trustworthy hands. Hiroshi “ahoboy” Ikehata is an excellent choice when it comes to ridiculous comedy that pokes fun at tropes with no malice. And speaking of fitting material, Naoyuki Asano is no stranger to very stylized character designs that give room to the animators for all the loose fun they want. That can be appreciated in the promotional video to some degree, but I expect the series to be closer to the static side; still very lively thanks to all the exaggerated expressions, but not exactly a pure animation festival. I don’t mean this is as a critique: it already has enough of a visual personality with its clean look, plethora of amusing faces, thick linework and well-integrated RPG nods. If the show ends up delivering more interesting poses and motion than expected I’ll be the first to rejoice, but it already seems lovely as it is. Production I.G’s new offerings next season seem fantastic!
Kevin: This might be a bit of an unexpected pick, since as far as I can tell this show is flying under everyone’s radar. Most people will fall asleep faster than I can type “light novel about a man who dies and is reborn in a fantasy world“, but this one appears to focus on someone who simply regretted not being able to pilot a robot, which makes it way more relatable than any of its peers. Chances are that I wouldn’t have given it a try if it had ended up in the wrong hands, but I have a soft spot for this particular 8-bit crew. Yusuke Yamamoto happened to be at Satelight after directing the impossibly charming Aquarion Evol, so when a group of creators over there decided to found a new studio, he simply followed them. His output at 8-bit, with Yama no Susume in particular, is by far the best work the studio has put out ever since. Action isn’t necessarily his forte (nor his weakness either, to be fair), but he’s accompanied by people who do know what they’re doing; the ex-ufotable animator Takashi Umeda will put his effects expertise to good use, and as long as the camerawork is sufficiently dynamic, I consider Orange’s 3DCG robots to be a genuine positive asset. The light novel with a title straight out of a dril tweet might not be the most memorable, but it seems like it might be a fun distraction.
Owarimonogatari (2017) (Recycled PV)
Director: Tomoyuki Itamura
Character designer: Akio Watanabe
Kevin: While the next Monogatari series isn’t getting a standard TV broadcast, we’ve been promised three new arcs kicking off on August 12-13. I feel like Monogatari doesn’t need any sort of introduction at this point, but the director Tomoyuki Itamura has earned a mention. As a fan it’s not easy to return to the TV series after Tatsuya Oishi’s deeply fascinating Kizumonogatari films, which might as well be part of a different franchise. That said, it feels as if with each iteration of Monogatari Itamura grows more comfortable with a role that was too big for him when he started. It was the first Owarimonogatari series, with its unsettling depiction of Ougi, that convinced me that he wasn’t just acting as an awkward replacement anymore. Monogatari‘s emotional payoffs and most satisfying thematic points have come quite late into the franchise, so the more comfortable its new lead director grows to be now, the better for us.
Senki Zesshou Symphogear AXZ (PV)
Director: Katsumi Ono
Character designer, Chief animation director: Satoru Fujimoto
Action director: Fumiaki Kouta, Yukiyoshi Shikiji, Toshiharu Sugie
Main animator: Yoshiyuki Okubo, Sakamoto Shunta, Hanyw
Ryan: Symphogear‘s something of a curious beast in terms of the notable jump in production quality with each new incarnation. This is mainly down to multiple staff overhauls between each season, one of the most notable being Satoru Fujimoto‘s promotion from chief animation director in season 1 to character designer in place of Satoshi Koike as of Symphogear G and onward. Other major changes include the art director and director of photography, but if you really compare staff lists you’ll notice that most core staff members from season 1 are nowhere to be seen now, which the series mostly benefited from. One exception here is the action director Fumiaki Kouta, whose work has been so invaluable that he’s the sole person to retain his position throughout its entire run thus far. For good reason, too! Even at its absolute worst (which it can reach more often than one would like), Symphogear action is still inherently fun to watch, especially when taking advantage of the ridiculous abilities granted to each Sympho. What’s most interesting this time around is Yukiyoshi Shikiji and Toshiharu Sugie‘s promotions to this role alongside him, particularly the former’s; he’s been doing key animation work on the series since season 1, standing out to the point of getting tasked as main animator for the next seasons. He then continued to prove his worth as an excellent action and FX animator – as well as provide my personal favourite henshin so far, while we’re praising him. How this will affect the action setpieces, and whether he’ll have the time to keep on drawing key animation despite his new responsibilities, still remains to be seen. I choose to be optimistic!
All that said and done, what can we actually expect from AXZ? Well…nothing incredible, if I’m being honest. Symphogear‘s never going to reach the same heights as the likes of HeroAca when it comes to pure action animation highlights, but I’m not a fan of downplaying the importance of just being consistently good, either. GX already proved that far more effort is being put into each character’s henshins than before, so it’s likely they’ll be aiming to either match or surpass that this time around. Unfortunately they’ve already confirmed that they’ll be breaking the tradition of including a concert scene in the first episode, so anyone holding out for more great work on that front will be disappointed. But hey, maybe we’ll get some more uncredited Hironori Tanaka to make up for it! Reports from the advance screening of the first episode say that around 70-80% of the episode is action-packed, so it looks like they’ll be going full throttle from the very beginning.
Kevin: As usual, let’s end with some quick notes on shows that so far don’t seem to deserve an in-depth look, yet have enrolled some noteworthy artists. The Reflection Wave One should in theory have been my most anticipated series based off the Hiroshi Nagahama and Yoshihiko Umakoshi team alone, but I don’t really buy into the aesthetic and am not convinced that they’ll escape from Stan Lee’s western superhero claws (which they themselves adore, for the record). If we judge based off directional pedigree alone though, 18if should stand at the very top as it’s supervised by the legendary Koji Morimoto. The teasers for this mobile game adaptation look very poor however, hence why I wouldn’t confidently bet on it. Konbini Kareshi also looks far from spectacular, but it’s worth a mention simply by being Hayato Date‘s first project after around 15 years of Naruto. He’s earned it! And if we were to cherrypick animation talent rather than directors, the Gamers! adaptation at studio Pinejam seems to have attracted the wonderful Kazuaki Shimada, so expect some neat highlights over there. For a very respectable season, somehow these final notes seem to have even more caveats attached to them than usual. But hey, if worse comes to worst we’ll still have Shin Itagaki returning to his true calling with Teekyuu Season 9.
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