Ladies and gentlemen, summer is officially upon us. RUN, DON’T WALK. (Actually, you should probably walk because it’s really damn hot out there.) But the point is, summer has finally made it and apart from the arrival of all the fun things about the season you all know and love, like gross insects and back sweat, there’s also a whooole lot of new anime I’ve got on my to-watch list. Significantly more than in any other season to date, in fact – in part because there are so many sequels/remakes that I’m actually watching for a change, and in part because there’s a far larger spread of female-targeted titles than normal.
This season, there are 17 – count, em, 17 – shows that have earned themselves a first look based on either the premise or the production team behind them. I’m almost hopeful that some of them will turn out to be shite, since it’ll be hard going if I decide to follow all of them right the way through. So, let’s take a look shall we? I usually go from bottom to top based on score, but this time I thought I’d mix things up a bit and tackle things in alphabetical order, just because.
This post is considerably longer than usual, so readers who’re after the TD;LR version can skip right to the end if they so desire.
I’m not entirely sure where this series is going to go story-wise, or how much direct involvement we’ll be seeing as far as the mecha element goes. In fact, I’m not really sure of much at all yet, other than the fact that it looks fantastic (I especially like the character designs – simple, but attractive) and has an excellent soundtrack. Production values will of course never make up for a bad story or dull characters no matter how good they are, but I’d like to give Aldnoah.Zero a decent chance, and there’s nothing there yet which has put me off. I don’t the first episodes gave us anything especially original, but seeing as it also didn’t do anything I found either offensive or stupid, I’m willing to keep an open mind until I get a better feel for the series. (And yes, I do quite like Urobuchi Gen, and I don’t care who knows it.)
Ao Haru Ride
Only the second title to be directed by Yoshimura Ai, Ao Haru Ride managed to both grab me and piss me off both in the same episode. I mean, this anime looks lovely; the water-colour style of artwork for those flashback scenes are beautifully done, and lends the whole piece a sense of quaint sophistication. On the other hand, I’ve no wish to emotionally invest myself in a romance/drama whose main male character is a broody jerk. I get it – something’s happened in his childhood (possibly to do with the divorce of his parents), and now he’s channeling his inner angst by being contradictory and putting a devil-may-care face over his broken heart of gold. Sorry man, that doesn’t excuse you being an asshole. I’d like to keep watching to see where things go from here, because I have a feeling I’d really like Ao Haru Ride if it weren’t for this aspect, but it depends on how the characterisation is handled from here on out.
If Sengoku Basara and Uta no Prince-sama got together and had a baby, Bakumatsu Rock would be it. Regardless of whether this is actually your thing or not, I think it deserves some credit just for having the balls to combine feudal Japan with electric guitars and government-controlled J-pop male idol groups. Yep, it’s about as ridiculous as it sounds – which is no doubt at least partially the point. I honestly can’t credit Bakumatsu Rock with anything more than its premise; while someone evidently had a lot of fun with the character and costume designs, the CG is downright awful, and the (so-called) rock music – whether purposefully or not – couldn’t be considered good by any stretch of the imagination. The scripting is also about as thoughtful as you’d expect from a show of this… calibre. I can’t in good conscience give this a higher rating, but that said, I’ll probably keep watching while the absurdist gimmicks are still fresh enough to be entertaining.
D’aww. I really like what I’ve seen of this so far, and while the first episode didn’t totally blow me away, the second got the blend of humour and low-key adorableness exactly right for my tastes. Barakamon is funny but also sweet, and although it presents an obviously idealised view of very rural Japan, it doesn’t come across as overly sugar-coated (so far, at least). The premise isn’t exactly original –townie coming to grips with rural life, the warmth and wisdom of country folk, etc. etc. – but that doesn’t mean Barakamon won’t be touching, and I also dig the fact that our main character is a fully-fledged adult rather than a school kid. If you’re going to watch any single slice-of-life title this season, this is definitely the one you should be picking up.
Okay, not a great start here – I imagine I’ll be dropping this one shortly, although it’s not the offensively bad show I thought it might turn out to be. Unfortunately, I also get the feeling that DRAMAtical Murder is trying its darndest to be cool and innovative even though it’s clearly struggling to be either. It’s certainly a colourful show, and I don’t necessarily dislike the general designs,but that’s about all I can say for it at this stage. The animation itself is subpar. The soundtrack is a non-event. Even the voice acting sounds weirdly off to me. Meanwhile, the story feels as though a bunch of reasonably fun and interesting individual ideas were grabbed almost at random and then smushed all together in the hopes that it would make a good overall product, when mostly it just feels kinda messy. (Also, I just fundamentally don’t understand the appeal of an anime based on a BL story that’s had all the BL content completely removed. Doesn’t that defeat the entire purpose?And if past experience is anything to go by – looking at you, Togainu no Chi – it doesn’t exactly do wonders in terms ofphysical sales, either.)
Free!: Eternal Summer
Either you liked the first season or you didn’t – and for better or worse depending on your point of view (and quite possibly your gender), season two is almost certainly going to operate in extremely similar fashion. Objectively speaking, the best thing about this series is still the lovely artwork and animation; it’s bright but crisp, and very smooth indeed, as is to be expected from this studio. Which isn’t to say the visuals are the only thing worth appreciating about Free! – I genuinely think the humour is well done, albeit somewhat repetitive, and despite all the general filler, I feel that the sports aspect of the story progresses at a decent enough pace. Free! panders, yes, but it panders incredibly well, and that’s all I need in a series like this.
Kuroshitsuji: Book of Circus
Fans and non-fans alike can rest assured – this is a full remake rather than a direct sequel, so not only can we pretend that season two (and/or season one if you like) never existed, but new viewers can also jump in without fear of missing out on anything of importance. Now despite my general agreement with what Watson had to say on the matter, I still enjoyed the original series just the same – I love a healthy dose of dark fantasy, and the genre tends to mix with Victorian-era England so very well. Thankfully, Book of Circus looks like it’ll be taking just about everything season one did and do it that much better. The animation is smoother. The artwork is more or less in the same style but clearer and sharper. And if episode one is anything to go by, we’re sticking much closer to the manga version of events, which I for one am deeply appreciative of. The voice actors remain the same, so points for consistency where it counts. About the only thing I’ll probably miss from the first anime series is the gorgeous soundtrack – other than that, I’m totally on board.
I expected this to be far worse than it actually is – so while Love Stage! won’t be winning any anime of the year awards, I’m mostly pleasantly surprised; our main seme is neither a cold-as-ice asshole nor a creepy molester, which is already a huge mark in this anime’s favour. The humour is also silly yet low-key enough for it to be actually funny – something that rom-coms often don’t manage to pull off that well. I don’t much care for the character designs, which feel like a weird mix of Amnesia and Princess Princess, and there’s nothing impressive about either the animation or the music, but as far as derpy BL fluff goes, Love Stage! looks fun and is also remarkably inoffensive thus far.
Sailor Moon: Crystal
It’s honestly too early for me to tell if this remake is going to be ‘good’ or not, although for what it’s worth, I certainly didn’t dislike the first couple of episodes. While I’m not really a fan of this particular art style, I respect anime titles that respect their source material – so in that sense I actually approve, despite it personally not tickling my fancy. At this point, I think the only major complaint I have is the pretty terrible CG during the transformation sequences. It’s blended in very poorly and unfortunately sticks out like a sore thumb; there’s no way not to notice its awfulness. Otherwise, I’m happy enough for the time being, particularly since it looks as though the story won’t be wasting its time wading through all the filler that the original series had. This strikes me as doubly important given that Sailor Moon Crystal will only be airing once every fortnight rather than on the standard weekly basis.
Sengoku Basara – Judge End
Yes, Sengoku Basara – simultaneously one of the Campest and Manliest shows ever to grace anime – has returned, and just as anticipated, it wastes no time getting straight to the point. Screamo metal OP? Check. Whole buildings exploding from the sheer force of manly willpower? Check. More fab Engrish from the six-blade-wielding, motor-horse-riding Masamune? Check and double check. If you haven’t seen the first two seasons of this then I thoroughly recommend checking them out (review here), and if you have, then you’ll know exactly what to expect from Judge End – namely, one of the most dramatic, idiotic, and epically crack-tastic action anime you’ll ever see.
Whaaaat? A show about an up-and-coming male idol J-pop group that actually looks halfway decent and retains a generous amount of self-awareness and realism? Somebody pinch me. Seriously though, I’m pleasantly surprised by how un-ridiculous this show seems to be. It definitely helps that Shounen Hollywood fairly grounded slice-of-life material rather than straight comedy or sparkly-eyed moe, but I’m still quite taken aback. As it happens, I don’t actually like the character designs overmuch, and the music is predictably terrible, but my lukewarm score for this show is much more reflective of my own personal taste than anything else. If I actually liked idol shows to begin with, I suspect I’d be adding at least one extra point to the above score, and maybe even two.
Space Dandy 2nd Season
This feels like the second half of a first season rather than a sequel – and in effect, that’s exactly what it is, since Space Dandy has always been strictly episodic, rendering any continuation of any kind essentially impossible. Of course, if you were a fan of season one then that’s definitely not a bad thing, as season two brings us more of exactly the same… if anything as trippy as Space Dandy could be considered ‘same’, that is. Whatever the creative team behind the show is smoking is still as potent as ever, and although I can never seem to make my mind up about whether this anime is really smart or really stupid, I can’t deny that it’s entertaining regardless.
Sword Art Online II
Note that I have zero interest in talking about anyone’s thoughts on the first season in this particular post – please go elsewhere for that if you’re so inclined. Anyhow, season two started off more slowly than I thought it would… not that the first season was extremely action-heavy to begin with, but I just naturally assumed there’d be less dialogue for the second season’s debut episode. However, I do realise that a certain amount of exposition always becomes necessary at some point, and all things considered, I’d rather have it out of the way sooner than later. Regardless, the second episode felt far smoother and more engaging, and imagine my surprise when I found myself becoming honestly interested in Sinon as a character. While I remain unconvinced that the best way to introduce a new main character is via a camera panning up her backside, I also remain hopeful that the creators won’t get too carried away with the fanservice.
Meh. That single word about sums up my feelings on the debut episode, which is a mostly confusing and uninspiring mess. There are a couple of good ideas here, but they feel pretty bogged down by tired scripting and cliché plot devices. Some of the characters could be interesting, but there’s absolutely nothing in the first 20 or so minutes of the show that encourages me to give a damn about any of them – I don’t know what anyone’s motivations are, I’m not instinctively drawn to any particular person, and I’m basically left emotionally cold. Honestly, my favourite thing about Tokyo ESP so far is the ED theme, and that’s only because I still quite like Yousei Teikoku.
I’ve yet to come across a single horror anime title that I like wholeheartedly and is consistently good from beginning to end. Many of them just seem to flop towards the conclusion, and since I’m a bit wary of Tokyo Ghoul doing much the same, I’m intentionally keeping my expectations a little lower than I otherwise might. That said, this does seem promising; a gorgeously vivid colour palette, solid animation, a very decent soundtrack, and most importantly of all, a great build-up of atmosphere that even the blatant censorship doesn’t detract too much from. I haven’t really seen enough character development yet that I feel able to comment on that aspect of the show, but I’m reasonably hopeful that Tokyo Ghoul will be at least passable on this front. While horror isn’t particularly my thing (you could probably safely add a point to the above score if it happens to be yours), I’m curious to see whether this one will hold up right the way through, so there’s a good chance that I’ll be sticking around to find out.
Yami Shibai 2nd Season
This is the only original anime short that I’ve watched and stuck with in recent memory. Yami Shibai is a bit hit and miss at times, but this episodic show actually worked oddly well in the past, and I can see no reason why it shouldn’t continue to do so. In fact, as far as supernatural horror goes, Yami Shibai is possibly one of the better anime titles out there regardless of episode length – mostly because it usually does a fantastic job of building up suspense without having to deliver any concrete conclusion other than ‘OH SHIT’. And really, is that not one factor that’s at the very heart of the genre to begin with? Not that I’m any kind of expert on that since I don’t even like horror per se, but there’s just something about this one that pulls you in. To anyone who hasn’t given Yami Shibai a try purely because of the 4-minute episode timeframes, you’re missing out on something quite good.
Zankyou no Terror
And lo, Watanabe Shinichirou and Kanno Yoko team up once more – this time for a show about a pair of teenage terrorists and an unfortunate girl caught up in the middle. Also, politics n’ stuff. Probably. This is without a doubt the best looking show of the summer season, and I don’t even know whether it’s possible for Kanno to deliver a bad soundtrack, so regardless of what your opinion on Watanabe is, Zankyou no Terror will at least be a treat for the senses. Beyond that, I’m very much liking what I’m seeing so far on the story front, although most of the details of course remain a mystery at this point. The writing and direction is solid though, so about the only thing I’m mildly concerned about is pacing – at just 11 episodes, there’s no time to waste, although the plot is such that there seems an awful lot to pack in for that number, and I certainly wouldn’t want to see this one rushed. Biased fan that I am however, I have every confidence that Watanabe knows what he’s doing.
Will probably/definitely drop – Bakumatsu Rock, DRAMAtical Murder, Tokyo ESP.
On the fence about – Aldnoah.Zero, Ao Haru Ride, Shounen Hollywood.
Will probably/definitely keep – Barakamon, Free!, Kuroshitsuji, Love Stage!!, Sailor Moon, Sengoku Basara, Space Dandy, Sword Art Online, Tokyo Ghoul, Yami Shibai, Zankyou no Terror.
Question of the post: Are you watching more titles than usual this season? What’s the single best and most disappointing of them for you so far?