The Winter 2019 season is already starting, so we’re back to do our usual job: figuring out which new titles have premises with high potential and creative crews that can do them justice, to save you the headache of doing it yourself! Let’s run down the most interesting offerings this season, both the ones you’re already expecting and some curious surprises.
liborek: Mob Psycho 100 returning with a whole new season is an exciting event as a fan, and beyond that, it marks a milestone in this site’s history. For those of you who haven’t been with us for that long: the Sakuga Blog was founded in July 2016, and Mob Psycho 100 was the first show we deemed worthy of receiving extended coverage. It’s rewarding to see an exceptional title get a proper sequel so of course we’re excited to have a chance to write about it again. Now, does that mean we’re getting more of the same thing? Yes and no. While it’s true the core staff is returning to continue where they left off, Mob Psycho 100 will remain a box full of surprises – the central idea that Yuzuru Tachikawa built the first series around. Though the myriad of techniques the staff used were meant to illustrate the state of Mob’s changing psyche in stunning fashion, Tachikawa found the ability to surprise the viewers to be a key aspect in and of itself. And thus, we can expect the show to explore a variety of new visual styles while some already iconic techniques from season one, such as Miyo Sato‘s paint-on-glass animation, also make their return.
While we just said the staff will mostly stay the same, one subtle change when compared to the first season is likely to make a difference: Yoshimichi Kameda is now, according to this interview, being credited as the chief animation director. As you might remember, that’s exactly the role he refused to take on before due to the strain it imposes on the artist, so this is an ambitious move on his part. And its obvious consequence is that we’ll be able to enjoy his powerful touch on a more regular basis, instead of just on the individual episodes that he supervised directly. Worried that diluting the raw Kameda magic will make his input less memorable and that he might not be capable of doing hands-on supervision? Don’t be, because it’s already been confirmed that he did animation direction on episode 2 – and impressions are quite positive! This is a win-win situation that was enabled by the extraordinary production schedule the show was granted. We better not reveal too much publicly for now, but they’re more ahead than you might be thinking considering the show’s scope.
The staff’s keen on exceeding the quality of season one and we have many reasons to believe they’ll achieve their goal. As described by Masahiko Minami, studio BONES’ president and producer of Mob Psycho 100 Season 2, “the young animators who like to make things move have gathered around director Tachikawa and Kameda-kun, and the atmosphere at the studio is very intense, as if this were a newly founded company“. If the PVs still haven’t convinced you that we’re in for a very special experience, Kameda’s own words channel the same sentiment: “you haven’t seen the good parts yet.”
Kevin: If Mob Psycho 100 S2 is the show that all animation fans are waiting with bated breath for, then The Promised Neverland occupies a similar position for anime viewers at large – as much as one title can for a group as heterogeneous as people who watch anime anyway. And there’s good reason for that popularity: the first arc of the series, which this TV series will adapt over 1 cours, is a gripping thriller that doesn’t make an effort to hide its thematic fangs, making it quite the surprising offering coming from Weekly Shonen Jump. Out of respect for people who want to jump into the series blind, I’d rather not give out too many details, but I can at least mention that it works both as a tightly plotted narrative and as a sharp condemnation of oppressive, dehumanizing systems and those complicit in them. Chances are that you know all that, though, and that you’re just here for us to address whether this anime adaptation stands a chance to live up or perhaps even best its source material. Is it in the right hands? Let’s see!
Asking people what do they think of series director Mamoru Kanbe will get you answers ranging from “one of the most distinguished members of the original Cardcaptor Sakura team who’s penned cult classics ala Sora no Woto and Kimi to Boku” to “the director of histrionic disasters like Elfen Lied and The Perfect Insider.” To say that his output depends greatly on compatibility with the material, both when heading episodes and entire shows, would be an understatement. As of late we’ve seen the best Kanbe on heartfelt titles with a sense of humor – look no further than his downright hilarious contributions to Atsuko Ishizuka’s A Place Further than the Universe. His ability to grasp current thriller titles, however, is up in the air; the episodes of Occultic;Nine that he storyboarded are notorious for their incomprehensible delivery, as he simply had no idea how to keep the verbose script compelling. His struggles with such a quirky show don’t necessarily spell doom for The Promised Neverland, and he’s a reputable director nonetheless, but keep in mind that the reservations about whether he was a fitting choice are fair.
Looking at the team he’s surrounded himself with – thanks to the invaluable help of star animation producer Yuichi Fukushima – makes the prospect all the more encouraging. Before any staff was announced, we heard rumors of Darling in the FranXX‘s team moving into this… and that’s what’s happening, down to a cameo appearance by its director. Even as someone who was quickly put off by that series, there’s no denying that having such animation muscle at their disposal will help. To make things more exciting, this effort will be led by designer and chief animation director Kazuaki Shimada. Seeing how there’s little hope to match the raw illustrative quality of Posuka Demizu‘s original art, they opted to trust a veritable animation fanatic with a knack for expressive acting instead, which also served to attract members of the talented team we’ve been seeing on Yama no Susume. The results of that are already apparent in the promotional footage, especially during scenes from the first episode that Shimada personally supervised. The Promised Neverland is a very human tale, and thus it greatly benefits from his focus not just on expressions but the general demeanor of the cast.
Though again, I’d be lying if I said that the staff they assembled was an all-stars crew with the right skills for the job. While they’re offering a reasonable equivalent of Posuka’s character work, the same can’t be said about her breathtaking world. Art design and direction, which is to say everything regarding the backgrounds, is in the hands of various Atelier Musa employees. You might know them for their work on the likes of My Hero Academia, One-Punch Man, or Overlord – serviceable efforts, yet far from memorable despite being attached to such popular titles. Since what we’ve seen so far from The Promised Neverland lacks the warm homeliness of the orphanage and the truly unsettling tones of certain moments teased out, it seems like it’ll be more of the same from them. Whether it’ll neuter the impact of certain scenes remains to be seen, but it’s a bit of a shame considering the role that the setting plays.
And that about sums it all up! The Promised Neverland is a big project that’s being taken very seriously by a team with lots of talent at their disposal, but there are still a few key aspects we’ve got to be reasonable wary of if we judge this adaptation by the high standards that it deserves. Ultimately, the strength of the source material is sure to shine through, and I do believe it can be boosted when it comes to character expression, so we’re dealing with another easy recommendation either way.
Kevin: Moving from one popular title to the next, changing registers entirely… but somehow keeping the exact same level of intensity. Kaguya-sama: Love is War was first described to me as The Death Note of Fucking, and after finally giving in and reading the manga, I’d say it lives up to the ridiculousness of that moniker. The series follows a couple of geniuses-yet-actually-helpless-dumbasses trying to outwit each other with impossible convoluted plans to force their crush to confess, leading to either party being utterly defeated by the end of it – or, more often than not, both of them. Though the tone is quite different, it’s reminiscent in some ways of Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun: a series that pokes fun at romcom tropes and makes them escalate further than we’re used to, but it never ridicules the genre, so it doesn’t feel off for it to indulge in it with some surprisingly sweet moments now and then.
So, we’ve got another solid piece of source material, but what about the staff? If The Promised Neverland is inheriting a sizable chunk of Darling in the FranXX‘s team at CloverWorks, then the exact same thing is happening at its twin sibling studio A-1 Pictures when it comes to Record of Grancrest War and Kaguya-sama. Almost all the animation team comes from Grancrest, minus its action specialists who have already moved on elsewhere. But most importantly, this marks the return of series director Mamoru Hatakeyama – not that you need to be told about that if you’ve paid attention to his unmistakable shadowless shots all over the promotional footage. The tremendously positive reception of Rakugo Shinju has led many people to believe that Hatakeyama is best-served on refined prestige titles, but let’s not forget that his first directorial steps were in late 00s/early 10s SHAFT anime, so he’s plenty comfortable with titles like Kaguya-sama too.
The relatively short length of each gag might make it tricky to thread events together for a more continuous type of storytelling, and the production values seem middling, but Kaguya-sama’s got what it takes to be a fun time!
liborek: The tag team of series director Shingo Natsume and animation producer Yuichiro Fukushi – whom you might know because of One-Punch Man and ACCA – returns with an adaptation of a famous late-90s light novel series, promising to stick closer to the source material’s vibe than the atmospheric 2000 take on it by the name of Boogiepop Phantom. If we’ve learned anything from their past works it’s that there are very few people as capable of attracting talented creative crews of the same caliber as the ones they gather. However, Boogiepop‘s existence has been troubled to say the least. Following the controversy sparked by a series of tweets by the novel’s illustrator, the show’s broadcast had to be postponed until 2019 due to the production delays the change of plans caused. Now, that alone didn’t spell doom for it per se (this industry could do with delays being a more normalized event to begin with), but it’s hardly reassuring and doesn’t seem to have had much of a positive effect on the production schedule considering the reports about rough character art.
Which is to say: if you’re coming into this series expecting a visual tour de force along the lines of the first pre-animated promotional video, you’re better off readjusting your expectations by checking the actual show’s footage; still featuring its share of spectacular highs, but also rough around the edges to the point of lowering the whole package to the level of a somewhat standard TV series. I don’t intend sound overly negative though, solet me be clear in that there are plenty of things to look forward to as well! This team’s scouting prowess is undeniable, so expect the return of a bunch of talented animators – both the digital animation stars you’d expect from a Natsume production plus some sweet, satisfying low frame count surprises – to elevate the action scenes (which aren’t as plentiful as you might be imagining!). But perhaps more importantly: Yosuke Hatta is being promoted to assistant series director, which I really welcome as someone who loved his work on ACCA episodes 3, 7, and 11. His control of the tempo of scenes is sure to give a sense of purpose to those bits of animation frenzy.
And while we’re teasing: keep an eye out for the opening and ending sequences!
Rinshi!! Ekoda-chan (PV)
Director: Gisaburo Sugii, Akitaro Daiichi, Tomomi Mochizuki, Akira Shigino, Ryosuke Takahashi, Yoshitomo Yonetani, Takeo Takahashi, Osamu Kobayashi, Shin Misawa, Masayuki Kojima, Koji Morimoto, Hiroshi Nagahama
Voice Actresses: 12 of them as well
Studios: A Bunch Of Them
Kevin: Where to even start with this one. Rinshi!! Ekoda-chan was the irreverent debut work of Yukari Takinami: a crass 4koma manga that served as the escape valve for the frustrations of a very specific generation of urban Japanese women, but that proved to be relatable beyond that; there’s something more universal about seeing the often naked protagonist rant about two-timing creeps, salarymen with illusions of grandeur, girls who are all façade, and her own crude bluntness. Therapeutic, almost. While it’s no surprise that a series like that would be adapted into multiple formats, I doubt anyone expected this sudden comeback to animation. Perhaps it’s because Nerima, the Tokyo ward the series owes its name to, is notoriously infested by anime studios. Intertwined destinies.
How are they justifying this new TV show, then? Rinshi!! Ekoda-chan (2019) will be a short anime series in the hands of reputable series directors. Plural. 12 of them. Each episode will be its own thing, in the hands of different teams and featuring new voice actresses for the protagonist every week. The production will span through multiple studios as well, effectively leading to 12 different shows of only 5 minutes of length – taking the anthology approach as far as a TV project ever could. The team (if you can even call it that) behind the show is fairly unusual as well; the directors are men who used to be prominent figures in Japan’s animation scene but have for the most part faded away, save for a few exceptions like Masayuki Kojima, Tomomi Mochizuki, and Hiroshi Nagahama. Otherwise, we’ve got a bunch of alternative artists like Osamu Kobayashi and Koji Morimoto who’ve grown tired of commercial projects, and even living legends like Gisaburo Sugii, one of the fathers of TV anime who’s been directing since Astro Boy itself.
Looking at the promotional video, this crazy approach is paying off when it comes to the sheer diversity of styles at least. Color us intrigued.
Kevin: Since we’ve reached the more esoteric part of the season preview, let’s move onto one of the more curious creators who’ve made it big in anime recently: Tatsuki. As you might be aware, the leader of the indie team irodori turned a seemingly dead IP like Kemono Friends into a massive hit with a mix of earnestness, charming clunkiness, genuinely intriguing worldbuilding, and an X-factor that’s honestly impossible to identify. Despite the obvious qualitative shortcomings of the production, we even covered it in this site a couple of times; sure, there’s much the show could gain from traditionally excellent animation, but there was something genuine to its crude delivery. And really, you can’t deny that a tiny team that realized its limitations yet went as far as writing narrative lore to justify the clipping of their 3D models didn’t try its best. Its fascinating mix of puzzle adventure game atmosphere and heartwarming kids anime friendships resonated so strongly with its audience for good reason.
And this season, Kemono Friends is coming back! So here I am, encouraging everyone not to watch it. As all fans of the title are painfully aware, that labor of love was immediately corrupted by media behemoth Kadokawa, who saw fit to get rid of Tatsuki and his team despite the undeniable fact that they’d saved the property all by themselves. Many lies, clumsy decisions, and generally gross corporate moves afterward, Kemono Friends is getting a betrayal of a sequel… on the very same season as Tatsuki & co are making their return to TV, because fate is capricious like that. Ethics aside, Kemurikusa – which is actually an old concept of theirs that they’ve decided to revisit and expand into a TV show – does seem to capture the same mix of absorbing yet incidental worldbuilding and cute relationships that made the team popular in the first place. There’s nothing quite like Tatsuki’s anime, and you’re never to late to give in to the tanoshii.
Kevin: Remember the exceedingly cool teaser for Dororo that was unveiled as this adaptation was revealed? Well, don’t expect anything like that in the show, since Takuji Miyamoto – the Ohira school artist who directed and animated that piece – said he was done with the title. Since then he’s also shared a series of complaints about MAPPA by veteran Hisashi Eguchi, who’s too old to be concerned about industry norms and blasted the studio for paying him half the amount he’d been promised for another project. Miyamoto was trained at MAPPA in the first place so you can tell where the bitterness comes from! But don’t worry, if you enjoyed his idiosyncratic pencil, you can look forward to his reappearance on Mob Psycho 100, which I suppose is technically a secret still. Forget this paragraph.
Let’s return to the part that you’re here for: what makes Dororo a noteworthy offering this season? The trend of revisiting older manga because overproduction of anime has exhausted the reserves of popular modern works is a neat side effect to an otherwise worrying problem. In this case we’re dealing with a late 60s series by none other than Osamu Tezuka; incidentally, its first adaptation was a 1969 series led by the aforementioned Gisaburo Sugii, just to reiterate how wild Rinshi!! Ekoda-chan‘s staff is. While it’s not as outrageous of a choice, I can’t fault the producers for entrusting a veteran action director like Kazuhiro Furuhashi with a period thriller, something that’s very much up his alley. Although he didn’t transition as gracefully as others into the digital anime era, so chances are he’ll never put together work as striking as the peaks of Hunter x Hunter and Kenshin, he’s still the very definition of a reliable project leader. Not a miracle-maker (the already forgotten Altair: A Record of Battles was his latest MAPPA project after all) but still a reassuring presence.
Whether studio and committee will be able to grant Furuhashi the assets he needs remains to be seen, but there’s one key player that I’d trust with no hesitation: Studio Pablo and its art director this time, Mari Fujino. Pablo hasn’t been at their peak performance for a while as they’re in the middle of a period of growth – a new substudio in Fukuoka is opening up in 3 months – and a generational shift, with many new art directors stepping to the plate so that their founder can focus more on management duties. The results have fluctuated in quality, with some debuts leading to occasionally strong work that didn’t quite live up to the company’s impeccable standards, and other newcomers who immediately hit out of the park. This will be Fujino’s first bout at art direction as well, and while the promotional videos don’t do a great job at conveying it, the series seems to get a lot of mileage out of the gritty, relatively stylized environments. Again, very important for a period piece!
And if it’s sheer coolness that you want, don’t let the loss of Miyamoto’s style sadden you – REDLINE legend Takeshi Koike directed its opening sequence!
As far as other titles go, I owe a mention to Kakegurui××. Being a sequel with an already established personality and Netflix kidnapping it for months made me skip the title when writing the major highlights, but Yuichiro Hayashi is easily one of the directors who’s best adapted to MAPPA’s demanding environment, and his adaptation of this title was fairly interesting; from his eye-catching storyboards to the obscene, exaggerated expressions and gaudy composite that emphasized the revolting feelings that capitalism encourages, it all felt like it had a sense of purpose even when the production couldn’t quite match his ideas. And speaking of excellent directors who’ll struggle to get their vision fulfilled: after Actas’ continued failure to make further Garupan content a reality, Tsutomu Mizushima is back with the suspiciously similar Kotobuki… which is being produced in rather dodgy fully CGi form by a rather infamous studio. Mizushima is clinically incapable of not making funny anime, but sometimes it seems like the monkey’s paw flips him off.
I don’t have quite as many kind words for The Rising of the Shield Hero, though I’ll be the first one to attest the growth of many of the Kinema Citrus creators involved in the project, as well as the skill of a bunch of the freelancers involved. Personally I found the source material too hateful for me to give any kind of honest recommendation of the show, but if that’s your thing, go ahead without worries! I have similar feelings towards WATATEN: I’ve got plenty of appreciation for a bunch of the Dogakobo-affiliated staff (Hiromi Nakagawa, Chiaki Nakajima, Mitsue Yamazaki, even their recurring guest Masayuki Nonaka), but I can only be disappointed that it’s been two consecutive seasons of such talented people dedicated to the stories of adults who want to hump kids. Now if only there was a site that hosted the neat clips of animations of shows you can’t be bothered to watch- wait.
And last but not least, I’m giving a very special shout out to Virtual-san Looking, a series that’s gathered many popular virtual youtubers for mysterious purposes. Is it because the legendary Hideaki Anno is involved with the creative side of the project? Well there’s that I guess, but really I just find a bunch of the dorks involved to be a lot of fun. So whatever it is that you’re excited for this season, have fun!