Another season of anime is upon us. The fall season has brought a refreshing diversity to TV anime, with Gainax and Bones productions headlining the rest of the solid line-up. Fall has been a solid season for anime throughout, and as if serving as a breather season, winter doesn’t seem as wide and as energetic as the former. Winter is mostly backlog season for me, but there should still be some shows that should be worth checking out, for what they’re worth.
*Chart and such after the jump.
Winter 2010 – 2011
Barring those throwaway card game/video game adaptations (surprising to see Sunrise not do one this season), the list seems to be filled with fairly run-of-the-mill fluff seemingly present every season. However, it might not do well to judge a show when it hasn’t aired yet, plus I’ve been tricked once or twice before, so first impressions shouldn’t be the ultimate deciding factor for enjoyment and/or quality. There are some shows there that are quite interesting too. As such, the three-episode rule always works. I won’t bother going into every single one of those shows, therefore I’d only talk about those which have piqued my interest.
IS (Infinite Stratos)
Production: 8 – bit
I’ve never really cared about light novels and their adaptations before (I dropped Bakemonogatari at episode 3, and done the same with Index) and this show should be no different. The plot description screams of a generic high-school harem show, just with a certain twist. Japan seems as if it doesn’t get tired of rehashing the same tired tropes over and over–only sprinkling them with a few twists to differentiate the shows from the others. Compared to other such anime, though, this show intrigued me. I haven’t encountered a mecha-musume series before (Does Strike Witches count?), and this should be a nice place to start. While I didn’t really like the flamboyant and sometimes a bit obnoxious trickery employed in Bake and the mass-produced JC Staff flavor in Index, IS promises to be a treat to watch considering it’s done by 8-bit. They apparently are a splinter group from Satelight (Noein, Basquash, Macross F), and they should be able to carry over the technical skill of their mother studio here (especially the CG effects; Satelight showed they can do it well before). Staff-wise, I’ve never heard of anyone included in the roster, but one name made me chuckle. The original character designer is called “okiura”, which at first glance called to mind Hiroyuki Okiura (Jin-Roh). Aside from that, this will be a fairly new experience.
Production: Studio DEEN
This one should be a pleasant surprise. While the plot description sounds like yet another ordinary fill-in-the-blanks light novel story, it could be executed quite well given the right people. At present, DEEN has been leveled with heavy criticism by a lot of fans after their supposedly sub-par adaptations, most notably Umineko no Naku Koro ni and other such series with low production quality. Yet the studio has been in charge of some solid, if not great anime series before. Off the top of my head I can list Oshii’s Angel’s Egg, Patlabor OVA 1, and the masterful first part of the Rurouni Kenshin OVAs (Trust and Betrayal) helmed by Kazuhiro Furuhashi. This time around it’s a reunion of scriptwriter Hideyuki Kurata and veteran animator Masashi Ishihama (both of which have worked on Read or Die–OVA and TV series–under Koji Masunari). Most recently the three have worked on A – 1 Pictures’ feature film Welcome to the Space Show. Given Kurata and Ishihama, DEEN’s latest offering should be a neat little watch. I don’t think this will be a keeper, but at least this should bring back a measure of respect to the much-maligned DEEN.
Bones sure has been active lately. They’ve had 2 productions so far this year, starting with spring’s Heroman until fall’s well-hyped Star Driver–both of which are highly entertaining shows in their own right. Gosick marks their 3rd production of 2010, and it looks like a departure from their tried-and-tested formula of action anime with the fantastical flavor, a la vintage Sunrise. This one is another light novel adaptation, apparently, in a move going by the current trends of the industry. This would also be the first light novel Bones will touch. Though the initial designs may look cutesy enough to cause the naysayers to call out Bones for succumbing to “moe”, I don’t think it’s that kind of show. I haven’t read the light novels to be sure, but I’ve heard some good things about this little detective story. Anyway, as with every Bones show, this one is almost sure to have consistently high production values, and sometimes, that’s all it takes to enjoy a show. For the staff, there’s veteran and studio co-founder Toshihiro Kawamoto for character design alongside Takashi Tomioka, another capable regular, and who’s also chief animation director. Mari Okada is responsible for series composition. Eureka 7 director Tomoki Kyoda is credited for “visual coordinator”, though I don’t really know what that is.
Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica
I really don’t know what to think of this show. On one hand I’m not too thrilled about watching yet another Shaft production once again directed by Akiyuki Shinbo (Do they even have other directors in-house?), yet on the other it seems as if he’s got high-profile staff working with him this time. Actually, I’m also going to be walking in blind for this show. I don’t know what to expect. You can shoot me if you want, but I have no idea as to the work of scriptwriter Gen Urobuchi (who’s apparently known for writing dark horror/drama over at Nitroplus), as I don’t really read visual novels at all. Music composer Yuki Kajiura is also alien territory with me. I’m quite indifferent to Aoki Ume‘s design work too. So far only animation character designer Takahiro Kishida is familiar, having also been animation character designer for Brains Base’s Baccano!/Durarara!!, and that’s it. However, it does seem as if Aniplex is giving considerable effort for this show, and they’ve been making some strides to secure great talent to work on it. Mahou shoujo shows are always welcome, and I hope for a very pleasant surprise come January.
*There have only been character previews released thus far for this show, in a move that suggests they want to keep everything hush-hush as of yet. You should have already seen them if you keep up with Arakawa x2, but if not, there’s always Youtube.
The noitaminA tier
Fuji TV’s noitaminA time-slot has always been reliable when it comes to consistently balanced quality anime. Numerous good shows have aired in it, examples of which are the emotional Honey & Clover and the brilliant Mononoke. This year alone they showed House of Five Leaves, a solid Manglobe production, and the next one being possibly the best anime of 2010, Masaaki Yuasa’s The Tatami Galaxy (which also won Grand Prize at the recent Japan Media Arts Festival). Currently Brains Base’s Kuragehime and Daume‘s Shiki are airing in the slot and are close to finishing. Both shows are highly enjoyable, and their replacements for the winter season should keep up that quality, I hope. Koji Yamamoto doesn’t have any more hair to shave, after all.
The infamous Yamakan (Yutaka Yamamoto) is back with an original production. After being fired from Kyoto Animation after 4 episodes of Lucky Star, he has gone on to direct A-1 Pictures’ TV anime Kannagi. Admittedly, the show itself was charming, but it really wasn’t that great, with only a few great spots here and there. Yamakan did what he was known the most for in Kannagi, though, which was the dancing part. He did a great job choreographing the dance in the OP, and if anything, he has talent in that department. His apparent bitterness towards KyoAni is fun to watch, but aside from that I don’t think much of him as a director. Frankly, I don’t have much in the way of expectations regarding Fractale, but I’d watch it anyway, since it’s a noitaminA show. Other staff members aside from him are Mari Okada (Gosick) for series composition, Hiroki Azuma for original concept, and animation character designer/chief animation director Masako Tashiro, whom I haven’t heard much about. Yamakan did reportedly say he was going to leave the industry if his show flops (which is most likely a bluff, since it’s fairly easy to succeed in the noitaminA slot), so I guess that’s my other reason for watching Fractale.
Hourou Musuko (Wandering Son)
AIC seems like one of those studios who mass-produce anime, akin to JC Staff and Studio DEEN, coming out with multiple series at any given season. As an example, JC Staff alone has 4 shows under their belt this fall season. That approach is innately hit-or-miss, with most of the time the shows resulting in misses. AIC did turn up some genuinely fun shows in recent memory, as in both seasons of Astro Fighter Sunred, and it looks as if they’re on the way to another one with Hourou Musuko. I don’t know which branch of AIC is in charge of this, but going by the PV, it looks as if it’s the show which would fill the quota for low-key character drama anime for winter. Those kinds of shows are quite refreshing amidst the spate of by-the-book action, fantasy, romance, and drama series that litter anime every season. Japan actually is skilled at doing this kind of story as well, and they’ve proven that in the past. Granted I haven’t read Takako Shimura’s original manga (which is kind of always true for adaptations I watch), but I’m still looking forward to it. The PV itself boasts some excellent stylistic direction, plus nice character animation, and I say this is by far the most promising of all the shows lined up for winter. I don’t know any of the staff involved except for Mari Okada who is practically everywhere right now, but it seems the director, Ei Aoki, was also in charge of Ga-Rei: Zero, another surprisingly fun show from AIC (was it really AIC? I forget). This looks to be a simple, fun and entertaining show.
Kimi ni Todoke season 2 (Production I.G)
The second season of the quirky and entertaining shojo drama/romance series of 2009 should be a treat to watch. The first season was light-hearted, cute and at times even funny, and I hope season 2 keeps it up, or even ups the ante.
Beelzebub (Studio Pierrot)
I’m really not feeling another Studio Pierrot adaptation of another Jump series, but I might as well give this a try. From what I’ve read of the manga, it seems like a throwback to older delinquent manga with a twist, so it might be fun. Other than that, it’s only my perverse loyalty to Jump that’s keeping me interested.
Yoshihiro Togashi‘s quite unheralded manga of the 90s post-YuYu Hakusho and pre-Hunter x Hunter is surprisingly getting an anime after more than a decade. I was quite the Togashi fan when I was younger, so this one could be good. There’s also the mystique surrounding the circumstances of this. If a generally unheard-of manga gets animated 10-plus years later, then who’s to say other manga won’t get adapted in the first place? I’m looking at you, Vinland Saga/Eden/Blade of the Immortal (Bee Train‘s abortion of an anime doesn’t count).
The OVA landscape seems to be more populated than it was before. But sadly, I don’t really see a lot of new ones that are remotely interesting. Aside from the numerous DVD/Blu-Ray extras everywhere, there’s Sunrise’s Votoms revisit, and fans of Ryosuke Takahashi‘s brand of “Real Robot” should be entertained. Following the precedent set by Yozakura Quartet‘s recent revamp, Tatsunoko Pro returns with another reboot, this time of the Madhouse adaptation Princess Resurrection. I haven’t seen the first series nor read the manga, but going by Yozakura‘s quality, I’d be in for a good ride with that one. Hal Film Maker‘s Tamayura series looks fun, and Junichi Sato and the guys have proven themselves capable of creating great slice-of-life stories, as seen in the Aria franchise.
Once again, Japan comes out with a revisit to the world of Go Nagai. 2009 saw the release of Shin Mazinger, possibly the sleeper hit of that year, directed by master-of-the-genre Yasuhiro Imagawa himself. This time, another Nagai anime is due for release–Mazinkaiser SKL. Frankly, I am virtually clueless as to the different canonicities/timelines of the Mazinger franchise (I don’t even know whether Nagai’s own Dynamic Pro is in charge of SKL), but what the hell, the OVA itself promises to deliver what Uncle Go is great at, which is unrestrained and relentless action and ultra-violence. I don’t see myself going to the trouble of looking up its place in the canon/timeline to enjoy the thing, but rather soaking everything in and absorbing the hotblooded, hyper-kinetic brand of “Super Robot” it promises. Uncle Go‘s works are best enjoyed that way, anyway.
There also seems to be an interesting original OVA called Tailenders. I don’t know much about it or the people behind it, but from what I’ve gleaned from the internet, it seems as if it’s a racing anime in similar vein to Takeshi Koike‘s Redline–which I am looking forward to see. I doubt it would come close to the amazing star-studded audiovisual spectacle that Redline promises to deliver (looking at the numerous trailers), but it would be a nice way to tide me over while waiting, at the very least.
Also another one that caught my interest was Iron Vendetta. The main draw of this one for me, aside from the promise of mecha other than Gundam, is the production studio behind it. Ankama Japan, if I remember correctly, is a branch of the Ankama studio in France, and they were in charge of animating one of the specials of the French Flash-animated series Wakfu. That special was a collaboration between French and Japanese animators, with directing done by the Japanese (technically it should be Korean, though). The Japanese staff consisted of no less than Masaaki Yuasa himself, joined by his usual collaborators at Madhouse, Michio Mihara and Choi Eunyoung, to name a few. Yuasa was credited for character design, with Mihara as animation director and Eunyoung as director. If that special was any indication, I’m willing to bet that Ankama Japan will bring in more great talent for this pilot.
Besides those, there are franchise sequels such as the second film of Macross F–Sayonara no Tsubasa–which I’m sure to watch. The first film, Itsuwari no Utahime, was in itself quite the audiovisual trip, and I hope Satelight/8-bit keeps it up.
Winter 2010 – 2011 doesn’t look like a bland season of anime overall, although it is clearly lacking compared to the preceding fall season. There are many shows that cater to many a taste, and I hope people find what’s best suited to theirs. After all, it’s nice if we all could get along.