We’re heading into a Spring anime season that, barring a few exceptions, won’t have as many prestige projects and obvious animation festivals as some of the lineups we’ve covered before. However, it makes up for that with a multitude of smaller projects with potential to shine in unique ways. With talent being spread so thin, including some unlikely projects that would normally get overlooked, this preview is more needed than ever!
liborek: Though we just pointed out that this season the talent is spread all around the industry rather than congregated in a few prestige project, there are a couple of powerful outliers. And when studio BONES president Masahiko Minami teased the audience at October 2017’s Machi Asobi event that their upcoming original anime had a truly outstanding staff lineup, he was dead serious; Hisone & Masotan is a major collaborative project co-created by the studio itself, popular writer Mari Okada, and chief director Shinji Higuchi, assisted by all sorts of anime stars. Okada’s prominence and bold style means that she needs no introduction among fans or detractors, but modern viewers might not be acquainted with a figure as important as Higuchi – and I do mean important, since he was one of studio GAINAX’s founding members. He became closely affiliated with Hideaki Anno, with whom he co-storyboarded the entirety of Gunbuster (1988), co-directed the latter part of Nadia – The Secret of Blue Water (1990), and even helped on Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995, movie 1997). These aren’t his only contributions to anime, as he was involved in the creation of studio Gonzo too, but over time his interest in practical effect and live action films made his career move away from this industry. Hisone & Masotan is being promoted as Higuchi’s comeback to anime in a main creative role after 20+ years, and that’s an opportunity he’s not willing to waste. It’s no secret that he’s always been attracted to military settings, both aesthetically and in themes derived from hierarchical systems (as seen in the award-winning Shin Godzilla, another collaboration with Anno), so expect this cute dragon series to have some meat to its bone too.
But the project isn’t only in the hands of the people who first conceptualized it, of course. The director appointed to do the more hands-on work and supervise the production is none other than Hiroshi Kobayashi, one of the most technically gifted young creators in the industry. His directional debut Kiznaiver received a mixed reception to say the least, but it’s indisputable that the show was full of visually inventive concepts and that he made some moments pack immense gravitas. Illustrator Toshinao Aoki was tasked with creating original character designs this time around, and his wonderfully simple yet expressive ideas were adapted for animation by BONES’ ace designer Yoshiyuki Ito (Soul Eater, Space Dandy). Shigeto Koyama – whose mecha designs can currently be seen on DARLING in the FRANXX – designed the dragons while Macross mastermind Shoji Kawamori designed the jet parts which the dragons use as disguises. Last but not least we find another extremely important figure in the art director Yuji Kaneko, perhaps best known for the beautiful traditionally painted background art on Little Witch Academia (OVAs, not the TV show) and Kill la Kill. Last year he founded his own background art company Aoshashin, and Hisone & Masotan will be their first full TV production as an independent entity. Even a lineup this stacked could be meaningless without a strong vision, but all the promotional footage shows a beautiful synergy between its stylized elements, perhaps not as full of exuberant animation as other all-star anime projects but with a very clear identity. We might be about to witness something extraordinary here!
Kevin: TadaKoi might have the second most exciting creative lineup this season, and not quite in the way it’s being billed. While it’s true that this is the return of Nozaki-kun‘s staff – which sadly means we’re saddled with Taniguchi’s clunky and kinda unappealing animation designs – that doesn’t really capture why this is such an exciting prospect. Series director Mitsue Yamazaki might be the most interesting director affiliated with Dogakobo so it’s no surprise that she handled Sakura Chiyo’s misadventures quite well, but she’s rarely had the right canvas to showcase her particular skills. Ever since the start of her career she trained under bold directors like Shigehito Takayanagi of Blood Blockade Battlefront S2 fame and musical-loving Kou Matsuo, and her most formative project as director was acting as Kunihiko Ikuhara’s assistant on Penguindrum. You could see how she absorbed many quirks from her eccentric tutor while trying to develop her own staging sense when she adapted Hakkenden in 2013, and a simple look at TadaKoi‘s promotional material tells you that her framing sense is still very much influenced by that experience. Her technical skills have only grown more polished with time, so now that she’s heading a big original project of her own, it’s time to unleash those striking idiosyncrasies and put them to good use. The tale of someone who had never fallen in love seems like a good outlet for a director who externalizes emotion in such an impactful way.
To make things even better, Yamazaki made sure to surround herself with companions who share similar sensibilities. Such is the case for art director Chieko Nakamura, who’s been a major Ikuhara collaborator ever since his Utena days, and more recently handled the aforementioned Penguindrum (alongside Studio Pablo’s talented crew) and Yurikuma Arashi. If you’ve experienced any of those works, or other modern classics like Doukyuusei, chances are that you’re already acquainted with her unmistakable worlds. Studio Dogakobo is taking the project quite seriously as well, so they’ve made sure all their available high-profile staffers would join the fray. Yoshiyuki Fujiwara, who wrapped up New Game‘s delightful sequel last year, will be assisting Yamazaki with series direction duties, while the animation leader behind their best produced titles Chiaki Nakajima will be doing design work and likely some supervision too. Talented animators who have recently been showing up on the studio’s productions such as Shuu Sugita will be making an appearance as well, since he seems to have handled the moment where the protagonist’s heart swoons for the first time – a captivating animator for a captivating moment! The introduction of the series on its official site openly boasts of the sheer quality of the crew they’ve assembled, and truth to be told, they’ve definitely earned that right. If you were excited over the idea of Nozaki-kun‘s creative team making their own original series, keep in mind that you’ll be getting that but also much more. The ceiling is quite high for this one.
Persona5 the Animation (PV)
Director: Masashi Ishihama
Character Designer: Tomomi Ishikawa
Kevin: Masashi Ishihama is a director we constantly return to in this site, mostly because his magical opening and ending sequences are among the most striking anime has to offer. His set of idiosyncrasies is so well-defined that you immediately recognize his touch, but he’s got so many tricks under his sleeve that they always feel fresh and tonally appropriate. We can’t say he’s been quite as lucky when it comes to leading full length projects however, since the fantastic From the New World – which proved just how well his voice adapted to a horror setting – was a bit limited by production troubles, and his film Garakowa had him trying to rescue a doomed concept on a way too short runtime. Persona 5 is bound to share some problems with the former, since despite being a much more popular title, the preview footage also made it obvious that they’re working under a tight schedule. What it also showcased though is just how well Ishihama’s style adapts to the whole phantom thief affair, so we can at least expect the anime to address the aesthetic issues the game’s cutscenes had. Whether it improves the other uneven aspects of the source material or not is still up in the air, but Ishihama is quite high in the list of directors I would trust.
Kevin: An impossibly oblivious, lazy, and gluttonous esper girl suddenly materializing into the house of a greedy member of the yakuza and wreaking havoc is an amusing setup per se, and it’s happened to land in exactly the right hands. Although Kei Oikawa didn’t start majorly turning heads until he handled Oregairu‘s heavy yet cathartic sequel, by that point he had already cut his directorial teeth handling more lighthearted material. His latest series KonoBi embodies that sense for warm comedy that Hinamatsuri should benefit from; while it was more grounded, KonoBi also revolved around a cast of misfits constantly bickering but growing comfortable in their own shared space, much like how this unlikely pair will come to form a ridiculous cozy household. It’s worth noting that Oikawa is also directing Uma Musume this season so his attention has been divided, but this is the project most likely to turn out well. Not only is he adapting the right kind of material, he also happens to have fitting staff at his disposal. The charismatic duo of Tetsuya Takeuchi and Ryo Araki return to his aid accompanied by Kuniaki Masuda, another reliable companion of his. Takeuchi’s unique brand of character acting extends beyond realism in a way that has always complemented Oikawa’s grounded but openly anime-esque style, and his disciple Araki being in for the ride too ensures that they’ll truly set the tone for the whole series. From action to daily life sequences, pretty much every scene in the promotional videos has their distinct flair over it, proving that the main animator title is no exaggeration. Expect this show to move in the vibrant way a premise like this requires.
Now I do have my share of misgivings before it even begins: from colors to backgrounds the design work is all-around uninspired, and while my experience with the manga was very pleasant, I can’t promise all the gags will land. In spite of that, chances are that this will charm you over – and perhaps it’ll get an essay written over here too, while we’re at it. A very safe bet this spring.
libo: Twin Engine and Geno Studio‘s second venture into TV animation seems quite a lot more promising than its predecessor Kokkoku, which had its moments but was unfortunately burdened with a troubled production. Being an adaptation of a popular manga, the expectations for Golden Kamuy are much higher, and the studio’s executives are well aware of that. Producer Noritomo Yonai assembled the project’s core team from the contacts he made during his years at BONES, which remain his strongest links to date. Director Hitoshi Nanba, perhaps most recognized for his work on Gosick (2011), has been one of Yonai’s most frequent collaborators in recent years so his involvement came as no surprise. He’s not the kind of quirky director that tends to charm viewers, but he makes up for that through sheer enthusiasm and capable management, which should be enough if he’s handed straightforward, strong source material like this. The main figures when it comes to the animation are undoubtedly talented, but I have the nagging feeling that they were a bit miscast; main animator Junichi Hayama can handle movement more than fine, but I’ve always believed he’s at his best as an illustrator and when correcting other people’s work, while character designer Kenichi Onuki of Gundam Build Fighters (2013) fame could actually shine more drawing animation instead. The most interesting creator involved might be the art director Atsushi Morikawa, whose specialization in rural villages and forests shown in Sword of the Stranger (2007) and Kumamiko (2016) should come in handy. Hopefully his backgrounds will be less obstructed by inappropriate post-processing than what was presented in the promotional videos, since they’re usually a sight to behold. While you should keep your expectations in check as this is far from a high-profile adaptation, the team is on paper solid enough to offer something that should please both existing fans and those who were interested in the title – as long as the production schedule doesn’t get in the way, that is!
Kevin: The latest and maybe last title in Go Nagai’s 50th anniversary campaign is going to face some preemptive backlash for sure. The phrase “a new Cutie Honey series by Photokano’s director” has been uttered multiple times already, and while that is technically true, it’s as misleading as it gets. For those still unacquainted with him, Akitoshi Yokoyama is quite the veteran already, having started his directorial career by drawing storyboards on Turn A Gundam. The spatial awareness he showed as an animator turned out to be a key asset when he was given the chance to conceptualize action as a director, which alongside his striking layouts led to him being in fairly high demand by other talented folks. Because of that dense network of relationships he’s got fans across various fandoms, from studio BONES devotees to Naruto fans, but I would highlight his partnership with Masaaki Yuasa as perhaps the most important bond of them all. He extensively worked on the likes of Tatami Galaxy and Kaiba, contributing arguably his best work to date and proving he was ready to handle something big on his own. The anime industry is a cruel mistress however, so the first project he was entrusted with was an adaptation of a kinda voyeuristic photography-themed dating sim by the name of Photokano, which simply couldn’t play to his strengths. His friendship with Yuasa at least led to this fantastic faux magical girl anime opening, but one neat extra couldn’t redeem a disappointing project, and ever since then his name has been tainted for any fans not willing to look at his actual career.
We wouldn’t be here if that was the end of the story though, and it’s worth noting that at least when it comes to other directors, Yokoyama’s reputation is still very high. While showing up all over the industry he was given the chance to contribute to the Animator Expo anthology, where he delivered a simply kickass rendition of The Ultraman – bringing back a classic property in spectacular fashion, which turned out to be a sign of things to come. Now he’ll be helming another Cutie Honey reboot, and judging by the limited look the PVs offer us (a hint of an unfortunate schedule?) it’s shaping up to be a fascinating effort; the frankly arbitrary 3D camerawork, taking Yokoyama’s own quirks to an obscene degree, could be the perfect complement for Go Nagai’s own self-indulgence, and the pop aesthetic is perfectly fitting. And while the production circumstances seem to be far from ideal, he’ll at least have a trustworthy youngster like Shuichi Iseki in charge of the animation department. Iseki started catching attention as he became Kill la Kill‘s de facto main animator, and his design work and supervision all over Animator Expo titles confirmed he is one of studio Khara’s new leading voices. Admittedly it would have been nice if this project had landed there since they would have more reliable staff immediately at their disposal, but this is quite the interesting series nonetheless. If it has piqued your curiosity, don’t let a single case of miscast director in the past make you pass on it.
My Hero Academia Season 3 (PV)
Director: Kenji Nagasaki
Character Designer: Yoshihiko Umakoshi
Chief Animation Directors: Hitomi Odashima, Takahiro Komori
liborek: If you’ve watched the previous seasons, you know what to expect at this point; blood-pumping heroism at the hand of a director like Kenji Nagasaki who truly understands what makes the manga so exciting, finding his best ally in the tunes composed by Yuki Hayashi. One major change however is that Yoshihiko Umakoshi won’t be reprising his role of chief animation director anymore, likely because he moved onto the show’s movie due this summer. It’s an undeniable loss of talent, though not as worrying as it may sound since Hitomi Odashima and Takahiro Komori proved to be good replacements on their episodes of S2 and both have significant experience under their belts. It’s worth noting though that this might be the beginning of a trend, and at this point it’s still unclear how many key animators followed him to the film and who will remain in the TV show. To combat that, we know they’ve reached out to talented freelance animators who hadn’t worked on the series before (as a certain skillful artist accidentally leaked their involvement beforehand), providing new blood to the production and thus ensuring that the climactic moments pack as much impact as they should. Even when the workload is more daunting than ever, HeroAca‘s team is ready to deliver.
Megalo Box (PV)
Director, Concept Design: Yoh Moriyama
Character Designer: Hiroshi Shimizu
Chief Animation Directors: Hiroshi Shimizu, Shingo Ishikawa, Kenji Hachizaki
Kevin: Studio TMS Entertainment has been quite busy in recent times, but few projects have been quite as important as the Ashita no Joe 50th anniversary celebration title Megalo Box: a much more modern take on boxing that nonetheless will attempt to act like a genuine successor, hence the treatment of the linework to give it a cel feeling similar to Tiger Mask W’s case, and the preference of impactful drawings over fluid movement. The main figure behind the show is director and concept artist Yoh Moriyama, an animator with Madhouse roots who will be spearheading a series for the first time. He has for a long time been a trusted concept designer by directors like Tetsuro Araki and Takayuki Hirao, so seeing how he transitions into the director seat after having shaped many popular titles behind the scenes is a very exciting prospect. He’s accompanied by veteran Hiroshi Shimizu, whose experience all over the industry is second to none. It’s been almost a decade since his last gig as character designer on a regular TV anime, ever since his work on Michiko to Hatchin, and this time around the work they’ve requested of him is so intricate he’ll be accompanied by at the very least two more chief animation directors. This might be the most unpredictable mix of talent in this entire preview, but that also makes it intriguing in its own way.
Ryan: A cast of nerds get up to shenanigans while also trying to make manga. Easy to approach for those in the market for some light comedy, but also a guaranteed forerunner in the list of projects with interesting staff that will get overlooked. Understandable to an extent, considering most will have missed director Yoshinobu Tokumoto‘s strongest work within the Pretty Rhythm series by nature of its kids’ anime status, but an adaptation like this more than fits the bill for his pleasant tempo. Character designer and chief animation director Yoshiko Saito, best known for her Nexus work like Re:Zero and Wakaba Girl, will attempt to make it all more pleasant to the eye, despite the frankly too aggressive approach to the composite. And although they’re bound to be isolated moments, the promotional videos already are filled with energetic pieces of animation. This won’t blow anyone away, but as far as simple genre entries go, it’s starting off with the right foot.
To Be Heroine (PV)
Director: Li Haolin
Character Designer, Animation Director: LAN
Kevin: Its predecessor To Be Hero was in many regards like an indie project granted commercial spotlight; unashamedly scatological humor brought to life by animation that was rough around the edges but that still managed to leave a very strong impression. At the core of it all was young chinese animator LAN, who acted as its designer, animation director, and also provided most of the hectic cuts for the show, aided by artists like kilocrescent who have made extreme stylization into their weapon. The series felt like the result of the current state of worldwide sakuga culture: no acting finesse, but tons of spectacular, flashy action setpieces with distinctly digital quirks. It feels wrong to fault a young, small budding team for focusing singlehandedly on the exciting animation they personally enjoy, but at the same time there’s no denying that technically their skill wasn’t yet up there with their incredible ambition. Over time, LAN’s set of acquaintances has only grown larger, including some animators from all over the world like guzzu who are just as capable as putting together explosive sequences like the original had as they are of animating more characterful moments. Chances are that this sequel will be quite the improvement over an already promising little series! Yet another reminder that despite what most anime fans appear to think, the anime industry’s collaborations with Chinese companies aren’t doomed to failure.
Director: Junichi Wada
Character Designer: Kenji Tanabe
Ryan: The corpse of Satelight handles an anime adaptation of a FuRyu kusoge isn’t a concept that inspires much confidence in potential viewers, more so with the release of a new PV steeped in washed out, drab colours and quite possibly the season’s least charming composite work. For better or worse though, our attention begins and ends with Junichi Wada, who most will recognise from his outing as director on last year’s wonderful yet heartrendingly painful WorldEnd. His connections with studio BONES through C2C served as a powerful asset during that production, and while he unfortunately won’t be able to tap into that same pipeline for Caligula, it’s hardly where his strengths as a director end. We’re under no delusion that this will be a strong show overall, but he’s more than capable to elevate character moments all by himself, giving us a window into their psyche and emotional state in a dazzling way. I find his major strength to be in how he aims to develop a specific atmosphere and traps the viewers within it for as long as necessary, whether it be a single episode or an entire story arc. He may just be the perfect fit for this sort of material in both respects, and there’s already teases of the same flair he’s shown previously, but this is still very much a case where expectations are best off tempered before diving in. On the bright side though, those hungry for a new Wada experience yet unable to stick through this will find themselves with the opportunity to seek out The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan instead.
Kevin: As the intro already noted, this season the talent is spread all over the place, which means that many new shows are likely to have at the very least their moments of excellence. A new season of Lupin III is always a bit of an event, especially with exceptionally talented staff like Hisao Yokobori and Yuichiro Yano behind it. They seem to have kept their approach from Part 4, with more of a focus on an overarching thriller that accentuates the coolness aspect yet doesn’t go as far as Takeshi Koike’s iterations, though the promotional footage this time around isn’t quite as lavish-looking. If your classic taste is more about the robots than the wacky thieves, there are some titles to look forward to as well. Full Metal Panic is making a return to the anime world against all odds, and although it’s suffered production issues severe enough to warrant a very sizable broadcast delay, having been granted 6 extra months to put together the series will do wonders to its polish. There’s no recovering the exceptional staff it once had and CGi is now an inescapable reality, but the likes of Boya Liang will deliver some thrilling highlights at the very least. And if you want more traditionally crafted mechs, Sunrise Sub-studio 3 is back with yet another entry within the Build Fighters universe. It’s doubtful that Gundam Build Divers will capture the magic of the original with Kenji Nagasaki still being busy with HeroAca, but series with hand-drawn robots as the norm are so rare nowadays that we should treasure them all.
And if you don’t fancy something as tense as robots beating the crap out of each other, there’s more relaxing options like Amanchu! Advance, which lost its fantastic director Kenichi Kasai but has been granted an exceptional schedule to make up for it – so much so, that its existence was accidentally leaked last summer as its production had advanced quite a lot already. And while Junichi Sato supervises that sequel, his old Toei companion Hiroki Shibata will be directing a series for the first time in over a decade in the form of Oshiri Tatei. While its pilot was a playground for Toei’s up-and-coming stars, its mini-series due this Golden Week will instead take a fairly old-school turn. Kids shows have also received their fair share of noteworthy creators, both new and returning players; Aikatsu‘s new iteration Aikatsu Friends should keep its strong core of episode directors and has already confirmed interesting guests like Takahiko Kyougoku, while Pripara‘s successor Kiratto Prichan will continue to be produced in Korea but this time under the hand of the eccentric team led by Hiroshi “ahoboy” Ikehata. But the arguably best lineup in this field has to go to Layton Mystery Detective Agency: Kat’s Mystery-Solving Files: Susumu Mitsunaka will be leading the project as he waits for enough Haikyuu! material to keep pumping out exciting sequels, assisted by series director migmi, who enamored viewers with her explosive growth during Hunter x Hunter. Continuous excellence is almost impossible to achieve in long running series, especially dealing with a studio like Liden that isn’t prepared for productions like this, but that’s an undeniably promising team. As we’ve been saying, chances are that this season will have entrusted interesting creators with something you’re a fan of this season!