The journey is certainly long – I just hope this is the single step.
As you know if you’re following the Notaku podcasts, I share the opinion of a lot of anime industry heavyweights that the system as it currently exists is inevitably going to collapse. As it has with many other aspects of society, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated existing fault lines more then create new ones. 2020 has been as especially terrible year for anime (and generally) and while the pandemic has made that more obvious, what we’ve really seen has been the continuation of a long-established trend. 2019 was a small step up from 2018, but overall it’s been a steep and steady decline since 2016.
That puts me in a funny position looking at a season like Fall 2020. I don’t think there’s any doubt it looks better than the first three-quarters of the year on paper. That was inevitable given that it’s scooped up a lot of delayed shows from earlier in the year, but it was probably on tap to be a little better anyway. In a vacuum that’s good of course – we all want more and better anime. But there’s a part of me that says if a sustained creative recovery isn’t going to happen until after the collapse, maybe it’s better to get the collapse over with and not be caught up in the mirage of a false renaissance (however modest). Like a baseball team selling at the trade deadline in order to hit rock bottom and start rebuilding in earnest.
Be that as it may, there are certainly a respectable number of series that cleared the preview threshold this time – 17 of them. What’s missing is much of a presence in the top categories, apart from the near-certainty that is Golden Kamuy’s third season. Most (though not quite all) of that dozen-and-a-half series batch, then, are more about hopes than expectations – or modest expectations to begin with. I certainly would have put Fumetsu no Anata e at or near the top of my list, but it’s been postponed to Spring 2021 – taking a substantial chunk of my fall expectations with it.
False dawn or not, it certainly feels better to be writing a more or less normal preview post than the skeletal one I did for Summer. We can’t know what the future holds with the pandemic, especially with Japan still in denial and relying on limiting testing, and in the midst of a regime change (generally messy and chaotic here) as well. But in anime production a semblance of normalcy seems to have returned, with some 47 series on the docket. That’s almost on-par with last year, though that itself was a considerable dropoff from prior years – part of the “new normal” that saw 30-35% declines in the number of anime produced across the calendar. That decline was showing signs of leveling off before the pandemic – but it is worth nothing that the original fall schedule was a bit smaller before postponed spring and summer series were added to it.
The mix of shows has a distinct new normal feel to it too. A good chunk of LN adaptations, all twists on the isekai genre, and a dump of CGDCT (probably the single largest genre). A couple of major sequels (though the season isn’t as sequel-dominated as summer). One of the fastest-growing categories continues to be online/cell phone game adaptations, overlapping with idol and vtuber stuff. A smattering of everything else – originals, non-isekai sci-fi, sports and artistically ambitious/seinen. Just enough of the latter to give the illusion of hope, like a striped three-iron on the 18th hole after a brutal day on the golf course.
With that, let’s move on to the preview. As usual, the poll is in the sidebar – please go vote!
Golden Kamuy 3rd Season – Geno: (PV) Golden Kamuy is something of an unlikely anime success story. It’s a weird and esoteric seinen with a sensibility that’s like a cross between Vinland Saga and Life of Brian, with an inconsistent production standard (who can forget the CGI bear?) and a discernible lack of obvious commercial hooks. Yet, somehow, it miraculously all works.
I’ve said it before, but I think the key to Golden Kamuy’s success is that mangaka Noda Satoru writes every character as if they’re the protagonist of their own series. The result is a cast full of people who feel distinct and important, each of them capable of commanding the moment every time they’re on-screen. That doesn’t explain why it’s been something of a minor commercial hit as an anime, but I’m not looking this gift horse in the mouth – I’m just glad it’s succeeded enough to earn three seasons and I hope we see the manga completely adapted (though we have no idea when Noda intends to finish it).
Tonikaki Cawaii – Seven Arcs: (PV) The first thing most new viewers will notice here is the author of the manga. It’s Hata Kenjirou, whose Hayate no Gotoku was certainly a massive hit by any standard. I pretty much knew once I’d read a few chapters of Tonikaku Cawaii that an anime was inevitable – it happened perhaps a bit more quickly than I would have predicted (the manga is just over two years old). I was of decidedly mixed feelings about Hayate – it could be fun but it was decidedly too self-aware and contrived for my tastes. I like this series better – I wouldn’t go so far as to call is a straightforward romcom (it has some very quirky elements) but it’s certainly more grounded than its predecessor. It’s the story of a lights-out student named Nasa (he takes a lot of hell for that name) and the mysterious girl he encounters just before his infatuated reaction lands him in a rather unpleasant situation.
Again, Tonikaku Cawaii (note: the above is the official Romanized spelling) is definitely not a stock romcom – the premise itself is pretty unconventional (marriage is part of the equation from day one). But the tone is quite sweet and rather earnest – this is a romance with a capital “R”. Seven Arcs isn’t a studio that in itself suggests success or failure and the staff is more workmanlike than distinguished. And then there’s the question of series length – I’m assuming one cour, though I wouldn’t say a future sequel is totally out of the question. But the source material is strong enough that I expect this to be a very satisfying show for fans of romantic comedy, a group who find themselves with fewer series to connect with in recent years.
Haikyuu!!: To the Top 2nd Season – Production I.G.: (PV) A second cour of a fourth season of a blockbuster manga? It would be fair to say there aren’t a whole lot of surprises implied by that, and at this point I think fans of Haikyuu very much know what to expect from this franchise. There was a bit of a stylistic change in the art for S4, and the budget may have come down a bit (given that the first three seasons were probably the most well-animated sports anime in TV history, that’s not a shock). But Haikyuu remained very much Haikyuu in terms of plot and character.
The one big change, of course, is that the manga has now finished its run in Weekly Shounen Jump. I don’t think the production committee would try to finish things up in one cour – there’s way too much manga for that, and even with the manga finished Haikyuu remains a very popular franchise. So a fifth season seems a virtual certainly at some point, and might just be able to finish the adaptation in two cours (possibly with the help of another OVA mini-series). As to when that will air, the second half of 2021 seems a fair guess – the only thing anyone will be waiting on is Production I.G.’s readiness, and this show should remain a profitable (and thus prioritized) project for them. For now, we have one more cour of the floppy-eared beagle driving a sports car to brighten up the last season of a rather grim year for anime (and generally).
Ikebukuro West Gate Park – Doga Kobo: (PV) This one was originally supposed to air this summer, but better late than never to be sure. Anime has always seemed to have a bit of a fascination with Ikebukuro, Tokyo’s biggest working-class district that’s second only to Akihabara as an otaku haven (and second to nowhere in popularity with female otaku). As usual with Ikebukuro stories the focus here is on street gangs and crime. While there is a manga that this series is theoretically based on (and another manga before that), the wellspring of all things IWGP is a hugely-popular TV drama from 2000, itself based on a novel. I don’t know much about the show except that it was a massive hit, but this franchise has come to anime via a pretty unusual route and that alone makes me sort of interested.
Yuukoku no Moriarty – Production I.G.: (PV) Anime has developed a Holmes obsession to rival the Oda Nobunaga craze in recent years, but this time around the focus is mainly on his chief foil. Based on a manga by Takeuchi Ryousuke (All You Need is Kill), Moriarty has a solid veteran director in Nomura Kazuya and the go-to writer for this sort of adaptation, Kishimoto Taku. In point of fact there are three Moriarty brothers at the center of this series, though the spotlight mainly falls on the middle son, who aims to topple the rigidly class-based order of Victorian society. You know the drill – Fugou Keiji, Kitsitsuki Tanteodokoro, Mayonaka, ad infinitum, there always seems to be one series filling “that” slot on the schedule and it’s usually written by Kishimoto. Yuukoku no Moriarty looks like Fall’s best candidate.
Osomatsu-san 3rd Season – Pierrot: To me it really seemed as if director Fujita Yoichi and writer Matsubara Shuu thought the Osomatsu-san joke was played out by the end of Season 2, and the movie would be their final cashing in on the franchise. But here we are, and I suppose it’s just the fact that money talks – the franchise is still popular (though not the massive cultural phenomenon it was after the first season). I don’t think anybody including the creators expected Osomatsu-san to be a hit, much less a massive one – I know I didn’t – and I’m not sure Fujita and Matsubara have ever gotten comfortable with the fact that it is. I enjoy the show for the most part and I’ll certainly be watching, but S2 was a fairly sizable step down in quality and I’d frankly be surprised if the same isn’t true of the third.
Hanyou no Yashahime: Sengoku Otogizoushi – Sunrise: (PV) Let me preface this preview by stating that I have a long history with Inuyasha, most of it positive. I don’t gloss over the flaws in either the manga or (especially) the anime – in the latter case the ones common to very long adaptations, including too much mediocre filler material. But it’s an important series to me both an an anime and manga fan, and one of the few anime where I really enjoyed the dub (though eventually I came to prefer the Japanese version). I don’t have an axe to grind here – unless it’s too much affection for the franchise.
Unfortunately, this sequel has my disaster radar going crazy – I see dumpster fire written all over it. More than anything my gut instinct puts me in mind of Last Exile: Fam – a misguided disaster that should never have seen the light of day. You have an original which (unlike Last Exile) ended pretty well and didn’t obviously demand an update. Takahashi Rumiko isn’t involved (apart from character designs), and the track record of the new staff isn’t especially impressive. Frankly it looks to me like an attempt to recast Inuyasha as a cute girls doing cute things show (which to some extent is what Fam was to Last Exile) in order to cash in on the flavor of the week. I’ll watch it – I love Inuyasha too much not to be curious – but I can’t say I have any sense of optimism over Hanyou’s prospects. The most positive thing I can say is that my expectations are so low that even if it’s decent that will be a pleasant surprise.
Kamisama ni Natta Hi – P.A. Works: (PV) P.A. Works teams up with KEY scenario maven Maeda Jun again for Kamisama ni Natta Hi, an anime-original. The premise sounds pretty bog-standard Maeda magical realism tearjerker – a high-schooler has a magical girl appear before him declaring herself a God and tell him the world will end in 30 days. Staff is a mix of the usual PAW suspects, with Maeda providing the music himself. Maeda’s works are hit-and-miss with me, but they do sometimes hit and I have a history (albeit not so much recently) of being compatible with P.A. Works. Modestly interested definitely covers it.
Higurashi no Naku Koro ni (2020) – Passione: (PV) Higurashi is back, though much delayed by the pandemic. This old chestnut is as familiar as a comfy sweater from the back of the closet at this point, the horror too campy to really be terrifying, but Higurashi can be a fun ride when it’s done right. One never knows exactly what the lowdown on a Higurashi adaptation is going to be, and they range from really good to frankly awful, but the overall average is high enough to draw me in. It’s been 7 years since the last Higurashi anime so who knows, maybe this one will even feel fresh.
Taisou Zamurai – MAPPA: (PV) There are a couple of interesting elements to Taisou Zamurai, the first of which is that it’s the only sports anime I’m aware of to focus on gymnastics. It also features a staff comprised of Zombieland Saga veterans, most importantly (since this is an original series) writer Murakoshi Shigeru. I’m not especially a gymnastics fan, nor a Zombieland fan for that matter – it had interesting elements but ultimately lost the plot for me after four or five episodes. We don’t know much about the story here apart from the fact that it focuses on a 29 year-old at the tail end of his career and is set after the 2002 Olympics.
Jujutsu Kaisen – MAPPA: (PV) Any WSJ title making the jump to anime is worth noting, though Jujutsu Kaisen seems to be a middle-feeder both in terms of popularity and critical reputation. Demons, possession, high school – nothing stands out as particularly interesting TBH. I’ll check out a couple of episodes and see if there’s anything surprising in the mix.
Maoujou de Oyasumi – Doga Kobo: (PV) A kidnapped princess just wants to get a good night’s sleep, but her demon lord captor won’t allow it. Yes, this is obviously a comedy, and while it sounds pretty dumb that’s not always a bad thing where comedies are concerned. There’s nothing exceptional in the staff list (though it’s fine) but the general consensus seems to be that the manga is moderately amusing.
Dragon Quest: Dai no Daibouken (2020) – Toei: (PV) Dragon Quest is obviously a pretty big deal. Starting out as a series of RPGs in the mid-1980’s, it spawned multiple manga, anime, and theatrical films and proved popular overseas as well as in Japan. I never really tracked any of that to be honest, but if nothing else this revival might be interesting as a look at how many imitators the franchise has spawned over the decades. The manga Daibouken is based on ran from 1989-1996 in WSJ. So why now? It’s another sign of anime’s desire to stick to the known rather than take risks, even when the known is a revival of an old franchise like this. And unlike many of the properties anime has rebooted, Dragon Quest never really went away.
Noblesse – Production I.G.: (PV) Close on the heels of Kami no Tou, another of the titans of manhwa makes its way to anime. The premise here never really grabbed me so I haven’t read it – sounds like a typical overpowered high-school dystopia mishmash. But it’s Production I.G. (though they aren’t exactly on a hot streak), has a pretty good pair of directors in Tada Shunsuke and Yamamoto Yasutaka, and Noblesse generally figures to get a flashier treatment than Tower of God did. For what it’s worth someone is clearly expecting to make some money off this adaptation.
Inu to Neko Docchi mo Katteru to Mainichi Tanoshii – Team TillDawn (PV): Inu to Neko is just a little short about a clever and sneaky cat and an earnest dog living together, but there’s some interesting background noise. Kishi Seiji is writing and directing, and the studio appears to have been formed specifically for this series. Probably not much to see here but I’m a bit curious.
Hypnosis Mic: Division Rap Battle – Rhyme Anima – A-1 Pictures (PV): The hook here is that women have taken over the government and weapons have been banned, so combat is now done through rap battles. Sure, why not? The anime is just the most recent attempt to cash in on the franchise of games, live performances, manga et al. Frankly I’ll be shocked if this isn’t pretty bad, but I confess a certain curiosity in spite (or perhaps because) of that.
Kami-tachi ni Hirowareta Otoko – Maho Film: (PV) Every season it seems like I pick one isekai LN adaptation to try that fans swear is different from the vast sea of mediocrity in the genre (and they really mean it this time), and this time around it’s Kami-tachi ni Hirowareta Otoko. The premise – if it matters – finds a 39 year-old sad sack dying and being reborn as a small boy in a medieval setting after the Gods take pity on him. Just typing that makes me think including this show in the preview is a mistake, but hope springs eternal.
Will Definitely Blog: Golden Kamuy 3rd Season, Haikyuu!!: To the Top 2nd Season
Sleepers: Well… Maybe Yuukoku no Moriarty, if that’s under-the-radar enough to qualify as a sleeper.
None (one OVA in the last three previews tells you all you need to know about the state of this format).
Bem: Become Human – 10/02/20: (PV) The TV revival of Youkai Ningen Bem was hardly a masterpiece, but it had its share of decent episodes and was generally inoffensive. It’s probably a pretty safe bet that Bem, Bela, and Belo will try to do the right thing and be misunderstood as they seek to become human. Hopefully they correct the mistake by the TV series and bring back the original OP.
Dounika Naru Hibi – 10/23/20: (PV) An adaptation of any Shimura Takako (Hourou Musuko) work is noteworthy. This is a one-shot about the relationship troubles of young people in modern Japan, and knowing Shimura-sensei it’s sure to span a wide range of themes. I don’t know the source work but my respect for the author is such that I’ll be interested in seeing what LIDENFILMS and veteran writer-director Satou Takuya can do with it.
Josee to Tora to Sakana-tachi – 12/25/20: (PV) Bones returns to the big screen with an adaptation of Tanabe Seiko’s novel, which already had a live-action film in 2003. It’s the story of a college student who befriends a wheelchair-bound dreamer, with some romance triangle complications and social commentary. Josee to Tora to Sakana-tachi is darker than it looks (at least the book and movie were), and it’ll be interesting to see how modern anime audiences react to it.
Entotsu Machi no Poupelle – 12/2020: Poupelle of Chimney Town is an interesting oddity, an adaptation of a children’s picture book by comedian Nishino Akihiro. The story of a boy who lives in a town so dominated by chimneys (well – duh) and smoke that the sky can’t be seen, the book displays some really stunning European-influenced artwork. Studio 4°C certainly has the chops to do it justice if they bring their “A” game.