Every new season we do our best to curate the massive wave of new TV anime, so you know which projects don’t only have interesting premises, but also the staff to allow them to flourish and an environment where production isn’t at risk of crashing. Many interesting creators have gathered this season on projects you might not have paid attention to, so don’t miss this special feature!
Girls’ Last Tour (PV)
Director: Takaharu Ozaki
Character designer, chief animation director: Mai Toda
Kevin: Girls’ Last Tour follows a couple of friends as they journey through a desolate, seemingly post-war setting where humanity has pretty much disappeared. They worry about their survival, while coming across long-lost technology and often vertically-oriented structures. I’m being a bit misleading about it, but the point to be made is that it sounds like it could be next season’s heir of Made in Abyss‘ grim adventures. Truth to be told though, its tone is entirely different; Girls’ Last Tour is a very contemplative, always optimistic series. The possibility of food running out is a recurring idea, but the series is much more concerned in finding joy within its barren world. Excellent source material by all means as far as I’m concerned, but does it have the staff that can properly bring it to life? It’s honestly still too early to judge Takaharu Ozaki’s series direction skills since this is the first full length project he’s fully in charge of, but his work in individual episodes stands as a reason to be optimistic. His storyboards always exploit depth and scale, even for comedic purposes, so he might feel very comfortable as these two girls explore many massive structures.
And while the director is an unproven factor I choose to be optimistic about, the character designer and chief animation director Mai Toda is an immensely trustworthy youngster. As a key animator at Kinema Citrus she already started captivating fans, and her current work at White Fox is a delight for everyone who appreciates cartoony work. To be perfectly honest, the original designs suit her so much it’s actually unbelievable that she was put in charge of this project, because surely there must be catch to this perfect fit. Toda’s contributions to the animation will undoubtedly be a great asset, but when it comes to the designs, she didn’t have to make many fundamental changes. Part of the reason why is that the series’ author Tsukumizu, who is a skilled animator to begin with, shares Toda’s mentality to create liveliness out of loosely drawn, very simple forms. The contrast between those and the detailed post-apocalyptic world was one of the series’ assets to begin with, and I feel like that has translated well to anime form. I’m not entirely sold on Masakazu Miyake’s rendition of the setting yet, but consider that a nitpick since the backgrounds are decent enough. All in all, this adaptation seems to have what it takes to bring to life this wonderful work – not through big and flashy names, but perhaps that also fits Girls’ Last Tour low-key appeal. If they nail the atmosphere, I’d say it genuinely has the potential to be an all-time great. So unless something weird happens, I’ll be covering the series on this site!
The [email protected] SideM (PV)
Direction: Takahiro Harada, Miyuki Kuroki
Character Designer: Yuusuke Tanaka, Haruko Iizuka
Chief Animation Direction: Yuusuke Tanaka, Maho Yoshikawa
Ryan: Two long years after Cinderella Girls finished broadcasting, it’s finally time for a mainline imas adaptation to return to TV. SideM may have lost some of the exceptional key staff from previous entries due to their obligations elsewhere, but that doesn’t change the fact that we’re still dealing with an immensely talented team that’s supported and poured their love into this franchise for the past six years. What’s more, SideM also has access to talent previous entries didn’t by nature of their connection to Shouta Umehara, the former Dogakobo production assistant who announced his participation in the show back in March and went on to show that these connections still run deep even while at A-1. This is by no means equivalent exchange – it’s hard to make up for some of the most critically acclaimed people in the industry – but it serves as a new reason to be excited, and I most certainly am! We’ll be seeing animation talent arriving through these new connections (the likes of Akira Hamaguchi perhaps?) to accompany the classic sakuga stars like Megumi Kouno. Meanwhile, on a directional level, A-1’s new sets of diamonds in the rough like Toshimasa Ishii, Ryuta Ono, and series director Miyuki Kuroki herself should be appearing with the goal of living up to their incredible seniors. I’m personally quite excited by the prospect of receiving a double dose of my favourite franchise in the same season through this and Cinderella Girls Theatre, which also means I’ll have the opportunity to finally give it some proper weekly coverage right here. To that extent, there’s little point in saying much else here. No need to wait long for those curious though, as this coverage will soon begin with the Episode of Jupiter special which airs…today!
GARO -VANISHING LINE- (PV)
Director: Sunghoo Park
Character designer, chief animation director: Tomohiro Kishii
Liborek: It should come as no surprise that I’ve chosen to highlight this show. I recently wrote an article about MAPPA’s current state, which I already considered extreme before this anime was announced. The initial reveal of an original project by the name of “Vanishing Line” was quite the surprise, but even more so was the name of its director: Sunghoo Park. Having a korean artist leading an all-Japanese TV anime production is quite rare (though not unheard of, as our readers know!), but there’s absolutely no denying that he’s earned that feat. When we were asked about the most prominent non-Japanese animators in the industry, Park was already one of my dearest choices. Just as I said back then, the fact remains that he’s an immensely talented animator with a knack for staging and executing action scenes; the wild timing of his animation already catches the eye, but it’s his grasp of combat back-and-forth that will make even people who aren’t concerned about animation enjoy some exciting encounters. And truth to be told, his name being attached to this project became less of a shocking factor when it was subsequently revealed that this is in fact the third installment of the GARO anime series. After all, this is the franchise that enabled his spectacular directional debut on Honoo no Kokuin‘s 18th episode. A couple of years later, its movie also turned out to be the perfect canvas for Park to show his exceptional skills.
The director won’t be working alone of course, so I would keep in mind that Park has particularly strong ties with another action star: Takahiro Shikama. Here’s hoping these two will collaborate once again on this series, because they’re genuinely some of the best in their field. I have no doubts the action scenes will be a treat then…for a while at least. Let’s not forget that Rage of Bahamut‘s sequel also started in grand fashion, and then lost steam in similarly spectacular ways as the studio tried to bite off more than they could chew. As a quick note, Tomohiro Kishii was hired to adapt Takashi Okazaki’s original designs for the animation. I mention this because you might recognize him as the person who designed 91days‘ characters, and his take on the designs for Vanashing Line is stylistically very similar. If they felt familiar, that’s it! When it comes to design work, I can’t say I’m too fond of the palette and Atelier Musa’s subpar backgrounds as shown in the promotional videos. The synopsis of the show doesn’t inspire much confidence in me either, and the wounds of the second Garo series (also lead by an animation master, by the way) are still relatively fresh. So, while the presence of a korean director might be why uninformed (and perhaps a bit racist) fans worry about it, Park is genuinely my big reason to keep an eye on the project. And I recommend that fans of action do as well, because at least in that regard, this should be a treat.
Land of the Lustrous (PV)
Director: Takahiko Kyogoku
Character designer: Asako Nishida
CG director: Eiji Inomoto
Kevin: “Beloved manga with exceptional art gets adapted by 3D studio” sounds like the premise of a nightmare that would haunt most anime fans. But if a site mostly focusing on the hand drawn craft of this industry is choosing to highlight it, you might want to pay attention to this project. Though to be fair, the preemptive skepticism was justified here: the mesmerizing beauty of Land of the Lustrous is one of its greatest assets, and many of its pages wouldn’t feel out of place in a museum. The paneling and its particular sense of progression are so inherently tied to its comic format that it really needed to be reinvented to work as animation. In that regard, a drastic change like taking the 3D route might have been appropriate to begin with. On paper, the idea of giving this series to the Love Live team could seem equally crazy, but that’s turned out to be a smart move as well. Takahiko Kyogoku will be once again accompanied by Asako Nishida, who redesigned the beautiful genderless characters for animation purposes before they got modeled in 3D. Her pretty work is to be expected, but it’s Kyougoku who has always managed to surprise me; I’ve been aware he’s a capable director for years, yet all his new projects seem to uncover an interesting aspect of him. In this case we have a striking sense of staging with clear Dezaki influences, which departs from the manga’s unique feel but does so in a very interesting way. Coupled with the exceptional color work and background, the results are spectacular so far. I genuinely can’t wait to see what he’s done!
Studio Orange’s CEO Eiji Inomoto is acting as the show’s CG director, and he appears to have brought something interesting to the table as well. I’ll honestly admit I didn’t consider him the best 3D director at the studio, but he’s by all means attempting something different with this project; it is Orange’s first full length TV series after many 2D productions after all, so changes were due. Knowing that 3D anime still has massive struggles portraying convincing acting, he’s taken cue from the shortcuts that hand drawn anime uses when faced with similar issues. And so Land of the Lustrous seems to have a lot of exaggerated, flat, sort of cartoony expressions to convey feelings in a way that the lacking mannerisms can’t. It’s not ideal, but it seems to bypass the major issue of inexpressive 3D models, and there’s some real charm to it. If anything, I would argue that the effects animation are the weak link, which might be why they’ve sneakily chosen to draw a bunch of them by hand. As it turns out, this unlikely team might be more than prepared to tackle this challenge. The show is looking great!
Juni Taisen (PV)
Director: Naoto Hosoda
Character designer: Chikashi Kadekaru
Kevin: Naoto Hosoda is a gifted animator with no restraint whatsoever, known for his breakneck speed action and the often exaggerated depth of his layouts. Once he started directing he reinforced his strengths: his action mastery allowed him to craft exciting setpieces from the ground, and his approach to animation was still joyfully wild. Over time he calmed down a bit, which coupled with some notoriously bad luck when it came to getting projects assigned, stopped his popularity from truly blooming beyond animation fans. He was eventually put in charge of the charming comedy The Devil is a Part-Timer, so nowadays he has some modest following at the very least. Is this his chance to make it big? That’s questionable, but returning to an action project is very appropriate at least. Fans who attended the preview confirmed that the combat scenes are intricate, long and very polished, confirming the strong vibes I got from the promotional material. Something that also stood out immediately is the very particular treatment of the linework thanks to photography director Yoshihiro Sekiya, whom you might recognize from other recent titles like Granblue Fantasy and Occultic;Nine. I remain conflicted about his approach to the composite; the results are striking as often as they’re bothersome, though hopefully he has a better grasp of this style after attempting it multiple times. And despite being for the most part a 3D studio, Graphinica appears to have assembled a very capable team for a 2D production – Hosoda’s presence is undoubtedly a factor here, but he’s not going to be alone after all. All things considered, this should be a solid action piece put together by a crew that actually understands why witnessing combat is exciting.
And that’s not all there is to it! As a big fan of Monogatari, I couldn’t not mention that this is based on a NisioisiN novel. People who came to like him because of his more poignant character pieces might be disappointed by the setup here, which appears to be his own equivalent to the Fate/ franchise, but at this point I’m willing to blindly trust him with right about any material. Add to that how the fantastic composer Go Shiina is handling the project, and as it turns out I have many reasons to be excited about this show. Obvious caveats inherent in its ridiculous premise (very ridiculous), but an easy recommendation if that doesn’t bother you.
Blood Blockade Battlefront & Beyond (PV)
Director: Shigehito Takayanagi
Character designer: Toshihiro Kawamoto
Creature designer: Koji Sugiura
Effects animation director: Takashi Hashimoto
Liborek: The long-awaited sequel to Studio BONES’ surprise 2015 megahit Blood Blockade Battlefront has arrived. You would think that the addition of an extra B to the title is a sign of the show becoming stronger, but with the departure of the prodigy director Rie Matsumoto, chances are that we’ll witness the opposite trend. With the mastermind behind Kyousougiga and some of Precure’s most spectacular work leaving the scene and going suspiciously missing, we have director Shigehito Takayanagi (The World God Only Knows, Dagashi Kashi) hired to take over the series. To calm down fans who were already about to cry, it’s worth noting that he’s at least attempting to recreate the look and atmosphere of the first series rather than reinventing the wheel. The aesthetic guidelines he’s inherited are fantastic, but frankly, it’s nearly impossible to capture Matsumoto’s genius sense of tempo without her onboard. But a more optimistic reading of the situation would be pointing out that, by sticking closer to the source material rather than following Matsumoto’s heartfelt original story, we might get to enjoy elements she silenced to impose her (admittedly fascinating) creative voice. For now the promotional material showcases amusing madness that’s escalated even further, so perhaps there’s fun to be had here after all!
Directional changes aside, most of the original animation staff appears to be returning, including animators who left My Hero Academia‘s second season in its later half. Most notable would be Yutaka Nakamura, who already participated on the first season and seems to be very fond of the show. Rie Matsumoto’s most frequent collaborator Yuki Hayashi also is helping out in this project, while preparing for his mysterious next work that he’s been teasing for well over a year – perhaps another collaboration with Matsumoto? Toshihiro Kawamoto and Koji Sugiura should be once again in charge of chief animation direction, while effects maestro Takashi Hashimoto is supervising the 2DFX as usual. To the eyes of a sakuga fan, the previews look incredibly promising. The original already was quite the impressive production, so here’s hoping the sequel goes beyond it as the title suggests!
Black Clover (PV)
Director: Tatsuya Yoshihara
Character designer: Itsuko Takeda
Liborek: Just as My Hero Academia temporarily leaves, another Shonen Jump anime arrives to the scene; admittedly not the greatest replacement, since HeroAca has a bold and distinct personality that’s hard not to be charmed by, while Black Clover‘s reputation is…less favorable, to put it politely. That said, we’ll always give credit where credit is due, and this adaptation has landed in interesting hands. The Studio Pierrot team led by animation producer Naomi Komatsu, which previously handled the adaptation of Twin Star Exorcists, is now collaborating with the webgen messiah Tatsuya Yoshihara. He’s such a recurring presence in this site that I don’t think a long introduction is really required, but for the newcomers I’ll simply say that he’s an excellent director in his late 20s who has a tendency to collaborate with even younger, exceptional digital animators; Ryu Nakayama, Shun Enokido, Takahito Sakazume, Itsuki Tsuchigami, you name it – right about every outstanding representative of this new generation of anime creators is acquainted with Yoshihara and respects him, so he’s able to pull talent form many places.
While many of them are busy with other projects, I have no doubts that Yoshihara will be able to assemble a strong core team for his new challenge. Here comes the problem, however: even if he does, that doesn’t ensure the quality of the project as a whole. He’s personally a very capable director, and his acquaintances are equally resourceful, but at the end of the day they will only produce part of the show. The rest will go to regular Pierrot staff, all while the studio’s talent is spread very thing thanks to other projects like this season’s Osomatsu-san. And we must account for the outsourcing as well, since the studio has a history of subcontracting work in precarious circumstances, and that always makes their work take a big hit. So, even though the project is being commanded by the kind of director who could theoretically elevate a flawed manga, I’m not overly enthusiastic about this. You should expect exceptional isolated work at worst, but how much further Yoshihara pushes it will depend on the team he manages to assemble and how long the series will be.
Children of the Whales (PV)
Director: Kyouhei Ishiguro
Character designer: Haruko Iizuka
Art director: Toshiharu Mizutani
Kevin: Children of the Whales is one of the most exciting fall 2017 anime. Unless you’re Netflix, in which case it’s one of 2050’s best titles. But streaming issues aside, we might have a winner in our hands here. I’m personally not a big fan of the idea of “staff being wasted”, but if you’re one of the people who looked at Occultic;Nine and wished the director was put on a a stronger series, then look forward to his take on this highly regarded manga. Then again, the same could be said about his first TV anime Your Lie in April and even that seemed to be a bit divisive, so maybe controversy is Kyouhei Ishiguro‘s fate after all. Either way, as far as I’m concerned he’s proven time and again not only his directional vision, but the management skills to consistently put out polished work despite this industry’s problems. And Children of the Whales looks like another victory in this regard!
Beyond Ishiguro himself, I would highlight the work of art director Toshiharu Mizutani, who recently served on the same position for Yuri on ICE alongside studio Moon Flower’s crew. The setting itself is so integral to the appeal of this series that they had to come up with something special for its depiction, and that they did. The promotional material showcases a very unusual textured look, which immediately caught my eye. I might have to get used to it in some contexts, but even if it doesn’t always work, when it does the results are spectacular. A world inundated by sand could have been monotonous, but they’ve made it look captivating and even somewhat colorful. As a final side note, you might have noticed that Haruko Iizuka was in charge of the character designs. Her work is as pleasant as ever, but the reason this is noteworthy is that she’s also one of SideM‘s two designers. Considering we cherrypick the strongest projects, appearing in two of them as key staff is quite the feat!
Ancient Magus Bride (PV)
Director: Norihiro Naganuma
Character designer, chief animation director: Hirotaka Kato
Kevin: There seems to be no end to the exceptional manga series being adapted this season! Much like in Land of the Lustrous‘ case, MahoYome‘s magic already begins with the way its author Kore Yamazaki arranges the panels. But unlike that adaptation, this doesn’t seem to have a plan to emulate its effect in animation form. During its prologue OVAs, the director Norihiro Naganuma showed a budding sense for framing that could ensure some beautiful shots, and on some scenes he managed to capture the whimsical fantasy that lurks in the world of Ancient Magus Bride. Ultimately it was simply decent though, which is about what I would expect from the TV series: a weak take on a truly marvelous tale, leading to a show that is alright but definitely not as strong as it could be.
There are some reasons to be optimistic, however. Studio WIT’s ill repute when it comes to project management is well deserved, but this project is so important for its parent company that they’ve allowed it a much longer production cycle than usual. We should expect it to be quite polished, and chances are that we’ll have some excellent isolated episodes; while I don’t think Naganuma’s vision is all that interesting, there are many inventive directors at the studio like Ryotaro Makihara and the newly promoted Yumi Kawai who, in case they contribute to the series, could pull off something that lives up to its potential. Keep in mind that I’m talking about one of my favorite series so I’m likely harsher than usual on an adaptation that simply isn’t ideal, but at the end of the day, this will be a good show. Just perhaps not an incredible one as it could have been.
Blend S (PV)
Director: Ryoji Masuyama
Character designer: Yosuke Okuda
Ryan: My efforts to hinder the Ryan Only Writes About A-1 meme continue to be for naught, though I blame them for keeping hold of the staff I’m most invested in. Earlier I mentioned that SideM had lost some key staff, and one of them just so happens to be Blend S’ very own Ryoji Masuyama. Originally part of the Gurren Lagann-era Gainax crew, he was one of the people within the team that followed Atsushi Nishigori to help him out with the original 2011 imas adaptation, proving to be so reliable that he was given full control over a few episodes. His stock only rose from here, being entrusted as a unit director on the sequel movie in between helping out the likes of Noriko Takao and Toshifumi Akai on their own personal projects, and eventually being assigned as assistant director for Cinderella Girls. He’s also made appearances at Trigger to help out his former Gainax acquaintances, and his work on Little Witch Academia has even been looked at in detail on this site before. All that said, one person alone can’t make a show; unless they’re hiding some surprise talent here, I only expect a few notable episodes handled by him directly surrounded by more average outings at best. The rather silly premise serving as a basis for a modest project means that this won’t be an inspired directional and animation showcase by any means, but one of the goals of our previews is to highlight shows with interesting staff that may fly under the radar, and this is exactly that!
Just Because! (PV)
Director: Atsushi Kobayashi
Character designer: Hiroyuki Yoshii
Kevin: Now this is going to surprise right about everyone. If you asked people about important creators attached to this project, all you’d get would be mentions to Kiseki Himura, the master of horny blue pictures who came up with its original designs. Does it secretly have an excellent director then? Atsushi Kobayashi was a protegé of the beloved Tsutomu Mizushima (known for the likes of Garupan and Shirobako), but truth to be told he doesn’t have all that much experience of his own. In the same vein, and perhaps even more importantly, the crew at studio Pine Jam is promising but not yet proven to be trustworthy. They have very strong links to exceptional young animators like Kazuaki Shimada, Noriyuki Imaoka and ちな, who will definitely come help out as long as their multitasking allows for it, just like they did for Gamers!. And it’s precisely that show that fills me with hope about the studio as a whole: we knew they had the contacts to pull off very charming small-scale projects, but throughout that series their staff showed they have the right mentality to approach full-length ones; there’s no real attempt to enforce consistency on the animation, and the resulting raw output enlivened even its messier episodes. Obviously we’re not dealing with quite the same lineup here, but as long as Pine Jam maintains its core, they will be a rather interesting studio. Worth paying attention to!
Let’s wrap things up with some quick mentions to other interesting titles. The second season of Sangatsu should be a mixed bag as usual: some genuinely striking introspective moments, brought down by the obstinacy to stick to the progression of the manga and boosting the unfitting comedy. Osomatsu-san‘s sequel is in a similar place – as much as I enjoy the series, its irreverent humor isn’t consistently strong, and the moments of exceptional craft were surrounded by subpar work. Here’s hoping it delivers another neat stop-motion ending sequence at least! I’m also torn when it comes to URAHARA, which under better circumstances would have been my most anticipated title. I believe it’s important for the industry as a whole as a genuinely Crunchyroll-born anime project, its pop aesthetic fit the sensibilities the director Amika Kubo showcased in her indie work…but the production itself appears to be intrusively clumsy, so keep your expectations in check, since by the second cours it might be pitiful to look at despite the gorgeous, colorful world.
I would say that this is a deceptive season: there aren’t as many top directors and animator powerhouses as other recent outings, but the range of titles with a potential to be damn fine is quite large. Consider us excited!
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