And with the heatwave, comes the start of the Summer Season. And what better way to welcome summer than with the eagerly-awaited third season of Free!? Just watching the boys diving into those cool blue waters is very refreshing. However, I can’t help wondering as one season blends into another, with shows like Steins;Gate 0, My Hero Academia, Lupin the 3rd Part 5, PERSONA 5 the Animation and Kakuriyo ongoing and Netflix continuing to offer their ‘watch it all at once’ model, how long the concept of four simulcast seasons will continue.
There’s plenty of new titles as well as the ongoing series, but are they worth the watch? Join our writers as they sift through what’s on offer and discuss what’s caught their eye. (Oh – and did someone mention the return of another series with its third season? What was it called? Oh yes, Attack on Titan…)
If there is one kind of anime Summer 2018 seems to have an abundance of, it’s comedy. From the binge-drinking-masquerading-as-diving show Grand Blue to the slapstick supernatural shenanigans of Dropkick On My Devil, if you want a laugh, there are plenty of options to choose from – however none are as unique or downright bizarre as Asobi Asobase. Much like Pop Team Epic from a couple of seasons back, the type of comedy this series goes for will be very polarising: you’ll either find it obnoxious and unfunny or downright hysterical, and I just so happen to fit into the latter camp. Centered around a school club about recreating various Japanese pastimes, Asobi Asobase will draw you in with its cutesy Slice-of-Life key art and opening before very quickly blindsiding you with a fairly dark sense of humour, often switching art styles from the soft pastel colours and traditional moe character designs to something much darker, with intentionally ugly animation, which often gets a laugh on pure contrast with the rest of any given scene. In that regard. I’d say it’s quite comparable to something like Prison School, albeit with less of a focus on sex-based gags. Aside from the reaction faces, the show also does occasionally wander into gross-out territory, which can be hit or miss, again, it depends on your sense of humour. Episode 4 in particular notches this to 11 with a very ‘interesting’ take on Shogi, but I would not dare ruin that surprise for anyone. Love it or hate it, one thing is for sure, you won’t find anything quite like it this season.
From one comedy anime to another, my second recommendation for this season would be Chio’s School Road. Like many, I see the studio Diomedea and tend to run a mile, as they’ve been responsible for such recent and infamous trainwrecks such as The Lost Village, Beatless and the total ruination of the Fuuka adaptation. However their fish-based comedy Squid Girl, was fantastic, so when it comes to their comedic output, I’m willing to give them a chance, and I’m honestly glad I did this time, because this show is genuinely funny. The main premise of Chio’s School Road, is a very simple one, following average high school student Chio Miyamo as she walks to school every morning. That’s it. Despite how totally mundane this may sound on paper, a boat-load of laughs are still able to be had, and it’s all down to the wacky adventures along the way. The closest point of comparison for this series would definitely be the Kyoto Animation classic Nichijou, leaning very heavily on a sense of exaggerated reality to bring life to traditionally boring situations. I wouldn’t go so far to say it’s as good as Nichijou, but that doesn’t mean that it lacks memorable or funny gags, and the first three episodes have certainly had me in stitches multiple times. If the likes of Asobi Asobase is too weird and ‘out there’ for you, I’d definitely recommend this one for a more traditional comedy anime.
Much to the chagrin of people who can’t or don’t like to subscribe to multiple video services in order to watch all the anime they want, Amazon Prime have ramped up the number of acquisitions this season, having four simulcasts this time around, of which two are some of the best currently airing. Whilst Banana Fish is fantastic (and I’m sure one of my fellow writers will have highlighted it below), I’d like to talk about Happy Sugar Life. The debut show from new studio Ezo’la, Happy Sugar Life follows high school girl Sato Matsuzaka, who befriends a young girl named Shio, and immediately falls in love with her, disregarding her old lifestyle of sleeping around. Despite appearing to be a sweet and innocent girl, there is a dark secret lurking underneath her friendly demeanor, as she does anything in her power to protect their relationship. Airing just one season after Magical Girl Site, and on Amazon no less, I can definitely see comparisons being drawn between that and Happy Sugar Life due to the foreboding tone and grim horror both contain, however, they are quite a bit different. Whilst Magical Girl Site hits you over the head with the horror and bleakness from the word go, Happy Sugar Life is more content to give you it in small doses, sprinkling the scenes of horror in between what feels like your average Slice-of-Life show. You may think this would make for some tonal whiplash, but I honestly find this way of doing horror to be very effective, as the juxtaposition between the two different tones makes the scary parts all the more effective when they show up, and I suspect as the series progresses, the line between the two halves of the show will continue to blur. The contrasting tones are very well done in terms of the animation too, with the cute parts being full of life, charm and flair, whilst the horror scenes are more sterile and tense. Considering Ezo’la has never done anything before, if this is anything to go by, they will certainly have a bright future, and I’m more than looking forward to seeing where this series ends up.
Asobi Asobase and Chio’s School Road are streaming in the UK on Crunchyroll. Happy Sugar Life is streaming in the UK on Amazon Prime.
Many big shows have made a return this summer, with both Attack on Titan and Free! now in their third seasons. The latter of these would be the most interesting, now that Haru and Makoto are in the same university, while Rin is down in Australia, with Nagisa, Rei and Gou still back in Iwatobi. The issue however, is if they can keep all of these story lines going with the characters all separated, not to mention the addition of new characters into the mix, the main one being a former friend who used to swim with Rin when they were younger, but has since grown distant and now only swims individual events.
In terms of brand new series, the one that has attracted my attention is Cells at Work!, an educational series about the human body, using moe anthropomorphism. The characters are the cells inside the human body, and the story mainly follows a Red Blood Cell with seemingly little sense of direction, who befriends a White Blood Cell who is rather gentle despite his job of killing germs and viruses on sight in a rather violent way. Because of this, you can argue that Cells at Work! is the bloodiest anime, and arguable the bloodiest TV show, ever made, in that the story follows blood cells who get covered in blood. How do you get bloodier than that? Other characters in the series include the maid-like but ultra-violent Marcophage; the loud and obnoxious Killer T Cell; and small, adorable childlike Platelets. This series not only is educational, but entertaining, and looks like it will deal with big issues. For example, the manga has already dealt with issues such as cancer.
Free! Dive to the Future and Cells at Work are streaming in the UK on Crunchyroll
While the Spring Season was filled to the brim with exciting shows to watch, I admit that Summer has slim pickings for me. Not at all helped by Netflix locking away some of the more interesting shows (I’m not at all bitter about Sirius the Jaeger being licensed by them…). Despite this I’ve still found a couple of new series to follow and recommend though.
First up we have Seven Senses of the Re’Union which follows a group of friends who make up the team Subaru in Union, a world-renowned online RPG (not dissimilar to the games we see in Sword Art Online). While taking on a particularly difficult quest, one of the members, Asahi, is killed in the game, which shockingly also leads to her death in real life. After her death, the friends fall out of touch and the game is shut down, but six years later a sequel game called “Re’Union” pops up. Protagonist Haruto is talked into playing the game by some acquaintances and there he finds… Asahi?! The girl who died, whose death broke up Subaru, is back and doesn’t remember anything since her death. Unable to log out and stuck in the game with no physical body to return to, Haruto must try to reunite Subaru and work out if Asahi is a ghost or truly back from the dead.
I’m sure many of you reading this won’t think Re’Union sounds like anything original and truthfully it isn’t. The best way to describe it, I think, is a cross between Sword Art Online and Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day. In some ways that makes it more interesting to me because it’s combining story elements I’m fond of, but I can certainly see it putting many viewers off. There is also the problem of it being based on an on-going light novel series, so I do worry we won’t reach a satisfying conclusion within the anime’s run. Having said that, the animation (handled by studio Lerche) and soundtrack are worth checking the show out for. The music has been a bit inconsistent in terms of having up-beat tracks mixed with sad, emotional scenes, but the animation has been strong throughout the few episodes I’ve seen so far and will please fans of action RPG adventures.
Secondly I’d like to talk about Grand Blue Dreaming. Regular readers of the site might be aware that I was recently given the opportunity to check out the first volume of the show’s manga and if you haven’t already read it then you can read my review here. Now I often say that comedy anime just isn’t really my jam, it has to hit a very odd combination to truly catch my interest but with few shows on my ‘want to watch’ list this season I decided to give Grand Blue Dreaming a shot.
The story follows Iori Kitahara, who has just moved in with his uncle after coming to a seaside town to attend college. Dreaming of a fun (and girl-filled) campus life, Iori gets more than he bargained for when he arrives and enters his uncle’s diving shop to find naked (and drinking) guys! Worse yet they’re also attending Iori’s college and are determined to bring him into their diving club. It’s not long before Iori is pulled into their drunken antics, but despite all the madness, perhaps he’s found friends he can rely on.
Admittedly the first episode of Grand Blue Dreaming was not at all what I was expecting and that made the show a lot better. The comedy is very visually driven and reminds me of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure in the hilarious and overblown reactions Iori has to the adventures of the diving club. Coupled with a likeable cast of characters it’s easy to sit back and watch an episode once a week. I’m hoping that we’ll eventually move away from all the drinking and partying to focus more on the diving aspect of the story (which the latest episode seems to imply will happen), but I probably wouldn’t be disappointed if it didn’t. Perhaps a show I won’t remember when summer is over, but for now it fills a hole.
Both Re’Union and Grand Blue Dreaming are streaming in the UK on Amazon Video.
I’ll admit that there isn’t a lot of the Summer Season that I’ve found myself interested in, new show-wise, so I’ll go for the elephant in the room and talk a bit about Attack on Titan Season 3. AoT is one of those shows that reached such huge popularity that many people became tired of it, but I can confirm that Season 3 demonstrates that there are still plenty of reasons to be watching beyond it being a juggernaut of merchandise. The story has got to an odd point where humans are actually fighting each other, completely ignoring the actual titans and general threat to mankind and focusing on some shifty politics that have landed our “heroes” on the wrong side of the law. The first two episodes have been fast-paced (something manga author Hajime Isayama insisted on as he’s retrospectively unhappy with this arc from his original work) and smoothly animated, and had enough time to focus on some characters and how they respond to have to suddenly fight their own kind rather than the monsters that normally serve as foes. Good stuff all round.
I’ll also mention the continuation of My Hero Academia, a show that has become extremely popular in its own right, and it’s easy to see why. This second half of its third season has been more generic than the thrilling first half, setting up a “Provisional Hero License Exam” that actually just seems to be a whole bunch of students having a battle royal with laser tag-like rules (they all have three markers on their bodies, if all three are hit by special rubber balls they’re out, and if you eliminate three other people you pass), at least for this round. It’s a rather straightforward way of getting to show your cast displaying new found attacks and abilities, but it works, and I’m sure the later rounds will provide plenty of action too, just not much drama to go along with it. The cast remains extremely likable, so either way you’ll spend the next few weeks routing for them.
So, Summer Season is quite barren for myself in the new show department, leaving me sounding like some sort of casual fan who only likes really popular stuff, but hey-ho. See you in the autumn!
Attack on Titan Season 3 and My Hero Academia Season 3 are streaming in the UK on Crunchyroll
I can’t pretend to be anything other than bowled over by the translation from 80s manga to 24-episode anime TV series of Akimi Yoshida’s classic Banana Fish by MAPPA, with Hiroko Utsumi (Free! Seasons 1 & 2) as director. This is not the place to venture into the passionate online arguments among fans as to whether this can be described as shoujo, shounen, BL, or whatever else – it’s very much its own thing: it is what it is. In updating the manga from the post-Vietnam era to just after the Iraq war, the creative team at MAPPA have inevitably displeased some fans of the original series but the story seems to have made the transition remarkably smoothly. The new character designs capture the essence of Yoshida’s 1980s distinctive artwork yet also make them acceptable and attractive to an audience used to a very different style. But it’s the dark drama of the series that’s so compelling, the claustrophobic sense of impending doom, the two young protagonists from very different worlds: two flames burning too brightly in a sea of drugs, crime and corruption, Ash Lynx, who’s learned to survive on the streets on NY the hard way and Japanese photographer’s assistant, Eiji Okumura, the innocent abroad. This gritty series grabs the viewer by the collar and drags them into the fast-moving narrative; it’s compulsive viewing and when the most recent episode was over a day late to air on Amazon Prime, you could sense the tension from frustrated fans!
Holmes of Kyoto (Crunchyroll) has an enticing premise: high school student Aoi (yes, another Aoi, see heroine of ongoing supernatural series Kakuriyo) moves to Kyoto and becomes an assistant at an antiques shop in present-day Kyoto. The shop is a family-run business that specializes in identifying the true worth and provenance of the antiques that customers bring to them. Aoi works with Yagashira Kiyotaka, the student son of the owner and a genius at solving mysteries (even though he claims his nickname ‘Holmes’ is just as much to do with the way his name is written as any likeness to a certain famous British detective). And indeed, anyone hoping for a young Sherlock Holmes-type might be disappointed as Kiyotaka seems far from the cold intellectual created by Conan Doyle. Based on a series of light novels, this is proving a pleasant but undemanding ‘mystery of the week’ series, although by Episode 4, the spotlight falls on the main protagonists, as it seems both Holmes and Aoi are on the rebound after failed relationships. Will they, won’t they…? (Curiously, the US subtitles attempt to render the local Kyoto dialect by shortenin’ the ends of words which proves more distractin’ than anythin’ else.)
Also set in a shop and based on novels – but in Edo at the time when the shogunate still held sway – is We Rent Tsukumogami (Crunchyroll) which started streaming later than most of the other series. Brother and sister Seiji and Oko (although not related by blood) run Izumo-ya, a rental shop (fires and earthquakes were so common then that city dwellers often tended to rent rather than buy household items and works of art). But some of the objects in their shop are so old that they have become spirits or ‘kami’ with extremely individual personalities. When clients come with a problem to solve, the tsukumogami are there to help out. So yet again, another mystery of the week series, but with a rather more unusual premise. And a wonderful OP, by MIYAVI, no less. As with Holmes of Kyoto, there’s an ongoing backstory so perhaps Tsukumogami will become more involving as we get to know the central characters better; at the moment it’s proving more of an intriguing curiosity than a must-watch.
Banana Fish is streaming in the UK on Amazon Prime. Holmes of Kyoto and We Rent Tsukumogami are streaming in the UK on Crunchyroll.
Links to all the above series and many more (including dubs on Funimation) can be found here