It’s time for the Summer 2020 anime preview: fewer titles than usual due to the mass postponements the pandemic caused, but also an unnatural concentration of talent for a handful of lucky titles with exceptional creative teams, solid ideas, and sometimes both of those!
Director: Yuzuru Tachikawa
Animation Character Designer, Chief Animation Director: Shinichi Kurita
Cyborg Designer: Kiyotaka Oshiyama
Deca-dence Designer: Hiromatsu Shuu
Gadoll Designer: Satoshi Matsuura
Battle Concept Designer: Tetsuya Masuda
Visual Concept: Izumi Murakami, Tetsuya Masuda
Kevin: DECA-DENCE has been a long time coming. The first whispers of an original work directed by Yuzuru Tachikawa being in preparation date back to fall 2016, and it’s already been a year since we got our first actual look at it with its formal announcement in July 2019. Tachikawa’s emotion-driven direction on Mob Psycho already made him one of the most exciting creators to follow nowadays, and it’s no secret that he has always gravitated towards original titles, so I wouldn’t blame anyone for feeling like we were promised a succulent meal and then starved out… even though that’s absolutely not the case. In between the first vague allusions to the project and its broadcast, Tachikawa has managed to squeeze in the most successful Detective Conan movie in franchise history, plus a sequel to Mob Psycho that arguably bested its predecessor despite the surprise component having worn off; not only has he been busy, he’s been busy succeeding.
For this project, Tachikawa is reuniting with Mob Psycho series composer—and sole scriptwriter save for a couple of episodes written by the director himself—Hiroshi Seko, who’s also been making a name for himself writing action series with a strong personality. Considering that this duo’s only failing was not giving some events in Mob Psycho II enough time to breathe, something that was sorta out of their hands with an adaptation slotted for TV, I’m confident that an original show of theirs that’s been a long time in the works will have very clear ideas and allocate time accordingly.
As if to prove that their vision is indeed unambiguous, DECA-DENCE’s staff lineup has the most sprawling yet specific design team I’ve seen in a very long time. As exciting as it is to see the rare all-stars project where producers simply go out of their way to contact every famous artist in town, there’s an apparent purposefulness to DECA-DENCE’s team that makes it feel very special. Tachikawa’s only concern is finding the right artist to bring to life every element as he’d envisioned them, which results in a fascinating mix of old and new talent, and even some folks with no ties to the anime industry whatsoever.
Kiyotaka Oshiyama is in a similar position to Tachikawa as one of the most promising directors of his generation, but since he’s also known for mechanical designs that feel genuinely alien, it’s no surprise that he got roped into this project. A big name like his might contrast to the likes of Hiromatsu Shuu, the up-and-coming Chinese animator who served as the designer for the flying fortress that the show owes its name to—but having shown his skill when it comes to grand scale and mechanical animation, why would his pedigree matter? The entire team follows this same pattern. We’ve got a creature designer with no anime experience like Satoshi Matsuura, whose mix of quirky and cute must have simply felt right to Tachikawa, as well as a concept artist whom Masaaki Yuasa himself used as Eizouken’s fantasy world ace in the form of Izumi Murakami. And of course, a battle concept designer like Tetsuya Masuda, whose experience in a franchise like Haikyuu where positional awareness is key makes him the perfect ally for Tachikawa and his spatially complex setpieces. A wealth of specific roles that extends even beyond these, all in the hands of artists who feel like the right person for the job.
On paper, this all makes DECA-DENCE sound like this season’s most exciting prospect. And in execution, it is. For all the inventive minds involved, the show initially presents a surprisingly standard revenge set-up in a world where humanity has been decimated by mysterious creatures… and then proceeds to subvert expectations multiple times in the first episode alone. The action is reminiscent of Tachikawa’s older work, although deliberately chaotic because the protagonist—a very expressive goof—frankly has no idea what’s happening. Old Tachikawa pal Shinichi Kurita has done an excellent job turning pomodorosa’s characters into animation designs, but since he’s all about the coolness, it’s also a relief that he’s got Hiromi Taniguchi and Ai Ogata assisting him on design and animation supervision duties so that the show can hit the stylish and cute notes it needs too. I’m sure some people will complain about the very obvious 3D usage, but since that’s enabling the three-dimensional action sequences with massive creatures that are so far thrilling to follow, even that feels like a fair price to pay. And since the production schedule remains healthy, we shouldn’t have to worry about big dips in quality either.
There’s no way to tell where the show is heading towards yet, but I can say with confidence that this is one of those special projects that might be worth your attention even if the premise doesn’t sound particularly enticing to you. Here’s hoping it ends up being worth the four years I’ve spent looking forward to it!
Kevin: Japan Sinks 2020 marks the end of an era, and not just as an apocalyptic work. It has the honor of being the last series directed by Masaaki Yuasa in his time as Science Saru’s CEO and creative leader, though funnily enough, its production actually wrapped up right before Eizouken’s did earlier this year. Yuasa admitted that his stepping down had a lot to do with overwork, having pushed himself to the limit for the last few years as his studio kept growing, and overlapping projects like this make it clear how stressful it must have been.
That said, Yuasa is no fool either, and he’s gradually been figuring out how to delegate tasks on other creators without compromising the unique vision that makes him a beloved director worldwide. That’s noticeable in all his modern output, and perhaps even more so in this case, as Pyeon-Gang Ho—who has previous directorial experience on Yuasa titles like Ping Pong, Walk on Girl, and Devilman Crybaby—occupies the position of series director. This might not sit right with fans of Yuasa’s older work who already felt like the eccentric visual style they fell in love with has been getting more and more diluted, but even as someone who did love that era of Yuasa, I find it fascinating that he’s been able to maintain his identity even with more formally standard delivery. And honestly, seeing the downright Hollywood-esque trailers for a Yuasa series of all things that Netflix has been putting out is kinda funny when you consider he was known as one of the most experimental anime directors.
Regardless of whatever your feelings on Yuasa’s evolution may be, it’s hard to deny that Science Saru has one of the most interesting approaches to adapting existing works in the entire industry. They’re always willing to reach out to non-standard material, be it lesser-known manga that comes recommended their way, or a 70s disaster novel that turned out to be a perfectly timely pick, albeit for tragic reasons. And once they do tackle them, the studio is never content with straightforward adaptations, opting to entirely reimagine works in cases where they’re strongly rooted in their time period, like Devilman or Japan Sinks itself. This appears to be one of their more ambitious efforts in this regard, with a reimagined cast that conforms with societal changes and the studio’s own diversity, as well as a shifting of focus to conform with Yuasa’s preferred themes. Even in cases where such major changes don’t pan out well, I feel nothing but respect for a team with such a consistently bold attitude.
When it comes to the animation production, there are plenty of reasons to be excited about the show as well. Not only because Yuasa always manages to surround himself with exciting creators, but also for project-specific happenings such as Naoya Wada’s debut as character designer; just 4 years ago he was a new prospect to watch out for, and now, already one of the main draws on a Yuasa title. Japan Sinks 2020’s aesthetic is down to earth in general, fittingly so for the subject matter and tone they’re going for, but Wada’s animation designs have a striking expressionist spin to them that simply feels right for Yuasa anime. They’re lumpy in a way that makes you feel like every animator’s pencil was allowed to flow freely, and yet the silhouettes remain well-defined, which proves that his sheets gave the team all the information they needed. Expressive and cost-effective, essentially perfect animation designs on his very first try. As it turns out, we were right when claiming that Wada’s potential was sky high a few years ago.
All things considered, Japan Sinks 2020 is one of the easiest recommendations for the season. Chances are that it won’t please old fans who thought Yuasa’s works have been becoming too standard, but otherwise it seems like a fascinating reimagination of an old disaster tale. And, by sheer chance, it’s arriving exactly at the right time for many viewers to enjoy a story that’s all about moving forward after losing everyday joys you never fully appreciated before tragedy struck.
Kevin: As intriguing as DECA-DENCE is, and regardless of how excellent of a team Tachikawa is surrounding himself with again, it’s another show that strikes me as the most likely candidate to have the coolest action in all of summer anime. Actually, scratch that. There are no candidates, as The God of High School is playing on a level of its own in this regard. And that has a lot to do with series director Sunghoo Park: an exceptional action animator on his own, and now that he’s left behind his worst tendencies when it comes to excessive camera shaking, also one of the best action directors around. The snappy timing of his animation is one of the most exciting things anime has to offer, and if the first episode is anything to go by, that’s all over the series despite him being busy with directional duties as well.
Just as interesting as what we see on the screen is what went on behind the scenes to make it happen. It’s no secret that The God of High School is all about seeing different martial arts and disciplines matched head to head, essentially making those Who would win debates many kids have had into the backbone of the show. And thus, to root a stunning but otherwise rather fantastical animation effort into the reality of those martial arts, Park decided to employ motion capture tech for reference purposes. Add to that the fact that the list of main animators includes acting specialists like Yuriko Ishii, and you’ll notice that the team’s goal isn’t just a flashy shallow spectacle, as they’re clearly worried about making it feel authentic and expressive too.
So, what is all that goodness in service of? One of the worst pieces of source material I’ve ever had to read for research purposes, to be perfectly honest. Juvenile, obnoxious in its fourth-wall breaking humor, weirdly icky at points, and so full of clichés you sometimes have to go through multiple chapters to find a single original idea. I don’t usually put titles that people are looking forward to on blast like this during previews because I don’t like raining on other people’s parades, but this time it felt important for a couple of reasons. For starters because it is that bad, but also because it puts the transformative effort that the anime team is making into proper context.
This is no mere shiny coat of paint: they’re making the definitive version of this story, giving actual gravitas to events and removing all the bizarre extraneous elements from the original. Personally I still find it somewhat on the obnoxious side when they’re not beautifully kicking the crap out of each other, but if you don’t mind paying that small price for some spectacular action, then you might as well give it a try. And if you already liked the source material, then you’re getting something better than you could have possibly dreamed about. Not a bad deal.
Great Pretender (PV)
Director: Hiro Kaburagi
Assistant Director: Ryouji Masuyama
Character Designer: Yoshiyuki Sadamoto
Assistant Character Designer, Chief Animation Director: Hirotaka Katou
Chief Animation Director: Kyoji Asano
Art Director: Yusuke Takeda
Kevin: As much as I’m all for the disruption of seasonal anime as a concept, as the rigid schedules are kind of anti-art and push way too many creators to overwork themselves to meet unreasonable deadlines, it feels kind of wrong to include Great Pretender here when nearly the whole show has been released before its Summer TV broadcast. There’s not much of a point to making predictions when I’ve watched enough of it to say for a fact that it lives up to the vibrant pop-art aesthetic its trailers already showcased, matching it with similar energy when it comes to its writing. It’s thrilling to watch, the arc structure is brilliant and for once incentivizes the batch releases that Netflix is going for, and the high-profile lineup of creators we knew about has already had some neat guests as well. So rather than a preview, let me leave you simply with the promise that I’ll write a full production notes piece when it wraps up, because so far it seems absolutely worth it.
Kevin: And speaking of shows I’m confident about but don’t have to preview at length for some reason or the other, the third season of My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU is finally coming. I already said my piece in the last season preview as it was originally slotted there. The series is still essentially the best of its ilk and there’s nothing to fundamentally worry about, although there are a few potential production problems that have already started manifesting themselves; just a few days separated my comment wondering if they were going to push it back from its actual delay, so you can see it really wasn’t in a healthy spot in the first place. Much like I said there too, I still worry that the main animators who did so much to humanize the cast might be too busy to return and do substantial work on every single episode again, but at least a couple of the new teasers have shown small glimpses of what appears to be their work. Again, as long as its schedule avoids collapse, Oregairu S3 should be plain great at worst, and the best of its kind of everything pans out. Not a bad spot to be, honestly.
Re:Zero Starting Life in Another World Season 2 (PV)
Director: Masaharu Watanabe
Character Designer, Chief Animation Director: Kyuta Sakai
Action Director: Kazuhiro Ota
Monster Designer: Tatsuya Koyanagi
Kevin: It’s only been a couple weeks since I published a long piece covering the secrets behind Re:Zero‘s success and the changes the team has gone through leading up to the second season, so you might want to go check that instead. Long story short: it maintains the extremely dedicated core team that was key to the adaptation’s impact, and while some departures from White Fox and the unsung hero support studio Nexus threaten the nearly perfect stability of the first season’s production, additions like the new action director Kazuhiro Ota promise highlights that are just as good as the original’s.
As far as other stuff go… there isn’t much to begin with, is there? Fewer shows than usual will be broadcast this summer, and talent distribution is hardly even, so there isn’t much to speak about elsewhere. Some other seasonal offerings do have solid production schedules and skilled individuals, of course. Kanojo Okarishimasu has been in the works for quite a while and features Kanna Hirayama‘s painfully adorable designs, but I can’t recommend it without also mentioning its contrived writing and a protagonist whose monologues are more often than not about how aroused he is. The same thing goes for the second coming of Fire Force: featuring once again a very large production buffer—something that the first season eventually burned through—and supported by excellent animators, but still in dire need of an editor and now without much of the magic that Yuki Yase added as a director. Since time is a limited resources and there’s too much vtuber content to watch in this world, though, I can’t say I’m opposed to an anime season where all the talent is unusually concentrated in a handful of cool titles.