I don’t remember giving permission to 2020 to start, but since it’s gone and done that, I suppose it’s time to curate all the new TV and web anime offerings to find those with the most interesting creators and premises. So, what are the most promising Winter 2020 anime?
Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! (PV)
Director, Series Composition: Masaaki Yuasa
Assistant Series Director: Mari Motohashi, Fuga Yamashiro
Character Designer, Chief Animation Director: Naoyuki Asano
Art Director: Masanobu Nomura
Kevin: While there’s no shortage of interesting titles to start the year, Keeps Your Hand Off Eizouken! easily stands out from the rest of the pack. Renowned series director Masaaki Yuasa is returning to the small screen after too long of a break for someone who’s been as busy as him, but he’s making up for that with a show that’s a delight from the very first second. Eizouken is such a conceptually Yuasa-like work that you’ll struggle to believe this isn’t an original series of his, and at the same time, it’s a project where he’ll be letting loose many young directors so that they can do their own thing – because there’s no better approach to a story about amateurs creating their first animations. It’s immensely relatable for artists of course, but right about anyone with an active imagination will be able to see themselves in these kids whose brains fire up after observing the fascinating world that surrounds them.
If you enjoyed Shirobako but it left you hoping for a title that tackled animation from less of an industry angle and more focus on its nature as an extension of our imagination, go watch Eizouken. And if you didn’t, go watch Eizouken anyway. Then go read our extensive coverage of its production, because of course we’re already doing that.
Kevin: Haikyuu!! was, for quite a while, the ideal sports anime production. From the tension during the matches you could cut with a knife to its excellent application of physicality in animation that Production I.G-trained staff have mastered over the years, right about everything about it was what all titles in this genre aspire to be. Will that remain true after the long break it has taken? Fans have found plenty of reasons to worry. After handling the first three seasons, series director Susumu Mitsunaka is stepping down in favor of Masako Sato, whose only experience as project leader is the already sort of forgotten Anima Yell! adaptation. Takahiro Chiba, a chief animation director with the ability to define the sharp look of an entire show, is also not reprising his position. And there’s no denying the aesthetic has changed. Should we panic, then?
The answer is clearly no. While her first show wasn’t a glamorous production, Sato managed to pour her heart into its truly important scenes, so there’s no reason to believe she’ll drop the metaphorical and literal ball with Haikyuu. A better look at her resume reveals her extensive contributions to high profile works at both Ghibli and I.G, and accompanied by other directors who know Haikyuu’s ins and outs as well, you can be confident about her leadership. While there’s a case to be made about Takahiro Kishida‘s more stylized designs for this season being a bit at odds with the physicality that defines Haikyuu‘s action animation, the update is a smart move considering Chiba won’t be around to supervise excruciatingly detailed, volumetric bodies on the regular. The tighter schedule than this team is used to is kind of a shame of course, but otherwise we’re still dealing with a situation that pretty much every other sports series would want to find themselves in. In spite of all these changes, Haikyuu is still Haikyuu, and that’s a good thing.
Kevin: I could tell you that this is Dogakobo’s unexpected return to glory, but then I’d be lying because its qualities had been apparent for months. Although Asteroid in Love isn’t going to rank among their funniest projects, the way it strengthens the feeling of reality via threedimensional layouts and character art, as well as the expert regulation of the lighting to control the mood, immediately makes it one of their more interesting titles. While the loss of their production backbone a few years ago destabilized the studio, the attitude that had made Dogakobo such an attractive place for young animators who like cute animation never disappeared, so with time they’ve trained new generations of artists that are just as talented as the ones from their golden age. Asteroid in Love isn’t a cartoony festival like their best productions back then, but it leaves enough room for cute acting while quickly establishing distinct body languages for the main characters; an excellent example of how much flavor can be added in adaptation, without even relying on wild theatrics.
If you’re worried that all these qualities might have been concentrated in the premiere and won’t be able to elevate the rest of the show, I’ll say that this show is a fairly safe bet – as much as something can be in the TV anime world, at least. The directorial and especially compositing approach that made the first episode feel special is obviously going nowhere, and even in the animation front, there are many talented regular contributors confirmed. The lineup of main animators is a neat mix of skilled Dogakobo youngsters like Keito Oda and Momoko Yano with interesting outside talent via Takeshi Osame and Naoya Nakayama; the latter, who brought us the beautiful ending sequence, is sure to bring some KyoAni-style delicacy to a project that needs it. Even if we look beyond them, people like Aikatsu ally Takuya Miyahara and Natsuho Iwaida, one of my favorite workaholics, have already confirmed that they’ll be showing up throughout this show. Asteroid in Love has talent to spare!
Kevin: It’s with all my love and apprehension that I present you the anime adaptation of Dorohedoro. A TV show that no one would have expected to exist, and perhaps one that shouldn’t exist period. Q Hayashida‘s series had been branded as impossible to adapt for years, which seems like a fair assessment; the source material is a slowly unfolding mystery with a very distinct rough aesthetic, and heavy on action between bulky yet agile opponents – in short, a whole lot of aspects that are a nightmare to translate into TV anime. But to be fair, some steps towards the impossible adaptation that Dorohedoro deserves have been taken: most notably, appointing world-famous artist Shinji Kimura as both world designer and art director. No other painter in animation can combine believable wear and tear of the world with suburban settings in such an enchanting way as Kimura, which makes The Hole’s scenery the perfect canvas for his skills. He would have been the first choice of any fan given no limitations in their picks, and for once, dreams have come true.
So, what about the rest of the team? Are they capable of living up to the other aspects that make Dorohedoro‘s storytelling one of a kind? Though it’s not on the same level of absolutely perfect fit, I’m willing to trust series director Yuichiro Hayashi. It was his storyboarding prowess that sold the first season of Kakegurui, he’s got an eye for contrasting colors that will do him well during Dorohedoro‘s surreal moments, and he’s proved he can weaponize concepts like ugliness that are also relevant to this title. Whether he can pack enough of the original goodness into a much smaller package and still make it satisfying remains to be seen, but he’s by no means a poor choice. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about the goofy 3DCG used for the constant action scenes; it’s understandable because Caiman’s knife acrobatics alone would have been impossible to keep up with for a standard animation team, but that begs the question of whether the adaptation was worth it if they couldn’t secure a thoroughly exceptional team.
At the end of the day, Dorohedoro is one of the best series I’ve read, and the anime looks like it’ll at least be good enough to spark the curiosity of more people to check out the original. It’s not the project I’d have wanted – even if it approaches that in some regards – but it’s also not going to sully its name. If you’re depressed over it, just take a look at this season’s Drifting Dragons, a breathtaking manga that contains essentially none of its original charm in Polygon Pictures’ adaptation, meaning that Kimura’s art direction alone makes Dorohedoro tower over it. It could always be worse!
Kevin: pet has the honor of having been featured in two consecutive season previews. Is it because it’s that good? A project so unique we felt compelled to highlight it multiple times? It’s certainly a very non-standard choice of source material; niche early 00s manga are hardly the first thing that comes to the mind of producers… except when it comes to Twin-Engine, who specialize in bringing to life titles that normally wouldn’t be made into anime. With Takahiro Omori at the helm of the project and the Junichi Hayama & Masashi Kudo duo in charge of the designs, there’s no shortage of talent in the core team either. Technically, it even features background art by renowned Studio Pablo via art directors Kentaro Akiyama and Tomoko Zama; and I say technically because certain artistic choices make the studio’s work hard to appreciate. No one’s going to be saddened but their presence, though!
So let’s just pretend that the reason we’ve talked about it before isn’t the fact that this show was slotted for last season and had to be delayed because the production wasn’t ready at all. If your memory is selective enough, there are no reasons to worry.
This time it was honestly tricky to narrow down the most interesting projects to a handful of top choices. It’s not as if we’re in a drought of good cartoons, but since so many of the projects with a high ceiling come with caveats, nothing short than visiting an oracle was going to reveal what the best picks truly are. We actually had to trim a few of high profile titles, starting with 22/7: the glorious sort-of-return to television for Yukiko Horiguchi and majiro, which has gathered some interesting talent… but not as much as the short films that preceded it, thanks to some unsubtle deprioritization by Aniplex. Follow-ups to massive titles like Magia Record and Railgun T are also hard to trust, even if you were a big fan of their predecessors; the former may be in the hands of a fascinating project leader but the result so far feels like it’s just going through the motions, while the latter is a victim of how the context surrounding director Tatsuyuki Nagai and JC Staff as a whole has changed.
If you dig risky choices, though, there are plenty of interesting prospects. Even Ei Aoki fans know that his original projects are always a dangerous bet, and with a virtual fantasy mystery like ID: Invaded, he sure isn’t playing it safe this time around. It’s worth noting that he’s surrounded by a capable core team comprised of his own Troyca personnel and White Fox-affiliated staff… but since both studios are so busy, the show is being made at studio NAZ instead. The anime industry is such a silly place. One company that embodies that is ALBACROW, a group-of-friends-turned-animation-studio that contains noteworthy creators that people often assume work for the likes of TRIGGER and Liden. Although we know very little about Breakers, their offering this season, I can’t help but be interested in a para-athletism themed anime brought to life by a notoriously wild creative crew.
But if life is already too chaotic and all you want out of your new cartoons is a safe bet for beautiful aesthetic, then I’d recommend either Toilet-bound Hanako-kun or Somali and the Forest Spirit; I’m inclined to favor the latter not only because of its organic integration of alien ecology and civilization, but also because it’s the most wholesome parenting series about humanity being so racist that they’ve been wiped out of the planet. Kind of a fitting way to start 2020, I think.