Thursday, September 29, 2011

:anime: HardDoor's Seasonal Anime Preview 2011-12 Special:: noitaminA (Autumn, Winter)

Fuji TV's noitaminA block has regularly produced a number of high-quality and notable works, but its spring and summer lineups this year looked so promising, I decided to do a mini-seasonal preview special on it. It was intended to be just a one-time feature, but I was open to doing it once more if the block proved especially interesting once more. No offense to Fuji TV or noitaminA, but it seemed so unlikely at the time that they could possibly strike such gold again.

And yet, here we are…

Similar to the past two seasons, noitaminA looks to have pulled out all of the stops for their autumn and winter lineups, which carry a number of interesting notes. The first of those are the big-named staffs being assembled for UN-GO and GUILTY CROWN (by BONES and Production I.G, respectively (well, a division of the latter, anyway), who also handled the summer slate of titles), creating an intriguing mix of talent whose final products should yield some equally intriguing results. GUILTY CROWN's run, however, will be stretching into the winter as a two-cour series, leaving the second timeslot to the surprise entrant of a Black Rock Shooter TV series in January February 2012 (thus making it "A Very supercell Winter", with the group's involvement in both noitaminA shows for that season's lineup).

[UPDATE (01/10/12): NoitaminA made a surprise announcement of a fourth series to debut in the season, albeit a three-episode long, Flash-based animation in Thermae Romae, whereas Black Rock Shooter was pushed back to February. More after the break…]

© "UN-GO" Production Committee


Debut: October 13, 2011
Director: Seiji Mizushima
Studio: BONES
Links: Official Site, noitaminA English SiteANN EntryANN Spotlight, ANN Article
Video: Crunchyroll, Hulu, The Anime Network
Picture Source: Edited from Official Site (top image)

Synopsis: Based on Ango Sakaguchi's short-story collection Meiji Kaika Ango Torimonochou, UN-GO transplants its Meiji-era detective tale into a futuristic setting, where "The Last Great Detective" and his pretty-boy "buddy" investigate the mysteries of the world. Their exact motives for doing so, however, or why they paired together, are mysteries unto themselves…

Personal Take: Consider this "The Seiji Mizushima Reunion Show". The director returns to BONES for the first time in over five years (and to the directing chair there for the first time since handling OVA shorts for their seminal hit, Fullmetal Alchemist, in 2006), bringing along FMA's screenwriter Shou Aikawa and the character designer from his Mobile Suit Gundam 00 series, Yun Kouga. While have I never liked FMA, have never been all that impressed by Aikawa's body of work, have mixed (though more positive) feelings over Mizushima's most recent work in Gundam 00, and am a little wary of the shounen-ai vibes coming off of this one's description (not to mention of "pretty boy" Inga's odd sense of fashion), I did like Sakaguchi's classic Sakura no Mori no Mankai no Shita (In the Forest, Under Cherries in Full Bloom), a twisted story with a twisted ending (as portrayed in Madhouse's 2009 Aoi Bungaku Series (Blue Literature Series)). I don't know if the allegorical strength of that tale will translate through this collection, but if so, it could prove to be a very strong series, especially with noitaminA favorite BONES' production values (especially if the promos are any indication). Inventive anime adaptations of classic literature have had a good track record of recent (Gankutsuou, Romeo x Juliet, Aoi Bungaku Series), and the trailers certain paint a stylishly-good picture of it, so hopefully UN-GO will keep that streak going…

Goody Stuff…: Not a whole lot to come by, unless you are interested in the (albeit small) character profile pictures, which are savable by using your browser's "page info" or "developmental tools" feature.

© GUILTY CROWN committee


Debut: October 13, 2011
Director: Tetsuro Araki
Studio: Production I.G Division 6
Links: Official Site, FUNimation SiteANN Entry, ANN Article (pre-announcement)
Video: FUNimation, Niconico, Hulu
Picture Source: As is from Official Site (top image)

Synopsis: In the not-so-distant future, Japan is ravaged by a mysterious virus and subsequently taken over by an international conglomerate. A distant 17 year-old student suddenly finds himself caught in the struggle between the corporation and resistance forces following an encounter with a young, enigmatic pop singer. But as he goes against the grain and tries to save her during an attack, he is imbued with the ability to extract weapons out of those he has a bond with…

Personal Take: Original character designs by redjuice? Check. Score by fellow supercell member (and founder) ryo and Hiroyuki Sawano (Sengoku Basara, Mobile Suit Gundam UC)? Check. Series composition by Code Geass' Hiroyuki Yoshino and Ichiro Okouchi? Check. Art direction by Yusuke Takeda (Gankutsuou, Kimi ni Todoke, Giant Robo)? Check. Cast populated with highly-talented, big-named seiyuu (e.g.Yuuichi Nakamura, Aya Endo, Takahito Koyasu, Minato Kotobuki, Takahiro Mizushima, Kana Hanazawa)? Check. Direction by Tetsuro Araki (Death Note, Aoi Bungaku Series' "Sakura no Mori no Mankai no Shita (In the Forest, Under Cherries in Full Bloom)" (sounds familiar?), Highschool of the Dead)? Check. Animation by Production I.G (Ghost in the Shell and Blood: The Last Vampire franchises, Kimi ni Todoke, FLCL, Usagi Drop) (or technically, by "Production I.G Division 6")? Check.

So, where can I pick up the first volume?

All joking aside, GUILTY CROWN is absolutely packed with talent and, more importantly, potential. There have been a few big-named anime in the last couple of years, but I do not know if I have seen one so stuffed with so many, much less one so well-chosen. One look at the staff and cast lists and even at the promotional art at its official website is enough to conjure aspirations of greatness: Death Note's director working with Code Geass' writers and supercell at Ghost in the Shell's studio on a project with an intriguing premise and beautiful artwork accompanying it. But when you actually look at their collective effort in animation, you can get a sense of just how great it could truly be…

Oh? But wait…

Exotically-goofy names for events and organizations ("Lost Christmas", "Undertaker", respectively), with "alphabet soup" initials for the bad ones ("GHQ")? Check. Big, global, fascist government/corporation (said bad one) ruling the land? Check. Vanilla-looking, unassuming (I presume), socially-aloof teen boy meets mysterious girl? Check. Fanservice elements? Check. Secret abilities no one's supposed to know about? Check. Potential angst? See "teen boy"? Check. Extravagant weapon designs bordering on excess? Check. Teen-boy-rival-"yin"-to-teen-boy-protagonist's-"yang" (and both have some history with one another)? Check. Motley crew of resistance fighters (complete with petite, rambunctious young girl destined to become crew's/show's "mascot"/bane of teen boy's existence (or viewer's--or, inversely, a fan favorite) and/or bound to have a "flat-chested" joke or two thrown her way)? Check.

"Sounds like every other generic sci-fi anime/JRPG out there," says the cynic in me. The cynic in me would also point out, moreover, how the basic premise is more than eerily familiar to Code Geass', which followed a socially-distant teen boy with a secret past and ambition who gets caught up in a clash between forces from a fascist global superpower occupying Japan and a resistance group, where he encounters a mysterious girl who bestows upon him "the power of a king" (compare to GC's "Ability of King"…and ignore the irony in reversed initials, or the changes in eye color when activated). Did I mention that people use mecha as their unlikely weapon-of-choice in both series (with like-minded structural designs)? Or that said mystery girls have similar uniquely-shaped garbs? How about the appearance of a tallcurvacious girl with long, wavy blond hair? Or even the prominent presence of a wheelchair-bound girl (although, it is good to see characters with disabilities appear in anime)? Maybe Death Note's director wanted a crack at his own Code Geass-ish story (to one-up it?), since that show featured a main character (and plot aspects) commonly compared to DN's own and perhaps went out of his way to recruit the guys that wrote it, but it is hard to ignore the similarities and not think something was afoot (and let's not forget the Utena-esque trait of pulling weapons out of other people, either…).

However, while likely intentional (for non-competitive reasons), there is far more than enough in GUILTY CROWN to overcome any such reservation or familiarity (at least on paper…and hey, Code Geass was a pretty good show, anyway). The talent assembled says a lot of GC's ambition and aim, while the released footage says even more about its vision and effort. It looks absolutely stunning in animation (replete with I.G's signature mix of CGI and high-quality 2D imagery) and firing on all of its potential pistons, which is perhaps of little surprise given Tetsuro Araki, whose Death Note and Highschool of the Dead were also visually arresting. Likewise, they were very strong productions all around, from writing and acting to animation and direction, with good doses of creative visuals to boot, which further enhances the storytelling (and if HOTD was any indication, maybe some "inventive" fanservice will rear its head, too). It is a surprise seeing Araki at another studio, though, as I have always pegged him as a Madhouse lifer, but directors and animators working outside of their "home" studios is nothing new. It does seem rather interesting that Production I.G is touting its "Division 6" sub-studio front-and-center as the chief animators behind the series, which is a first for them. As it is apparently tasked to new talent, perhaps it is more of a "pride" thing for I.G as they put their talents on display for the world to see, or maybe it is a possible spinoff candidate (with Araki heading it?).

However the case, and speculation aside, GUILTY CROWN looks extremely good and appears posed to capitalize on its all-star potential. Producer Aniplex has been on a big roll with this year (and the last few) with Puella Magi Madoka Magica, noitaminA's own AnoHana, and Blue Exorcist (Ao no Exorcist), and GC looks poised to continue it in a big way. But as big all-star anime go, hopefully it is more Madoka or Bakemonogatari than LINEBARRELS OF IRON or Star Driver

Goody Stuff…: The producers of the show clearly wanted to show off the gorgeousness of GUILTY CROWN as they went all-out in designing the official website with a focus on its artwork. Many of the promo pictures and character images are fully-sized to accentuate their detail and beauty, and luckily, they are not very difficult to save for yourself. Top-page visuals and gallery pictures (smaller in resolution than the former, but still quite good) are simply a right-click away, while some of the other pictures, such as ones for characters and mecha, may require you to use your browser's "page info" or "developmental tools" feature to save them. In the coming weeks, wallpaper, surely more artwork from all sides, and other items will be added to the website, so do keep an eye out for them! [Update: Wallpaper now available (for both desktops & smartphones), made from the promo art on the site! Also, the "Story" section features screenshots from each episode and a 4koma strip (whether this is a weekly occurrence remains to be seen)!]

[UPDATE (10/27/11): "Gallery" section also hosting a downloadable weekly newsletter in the "Council" subsection, corresponding with each new episode (PDF format, and in Japanese only, with small bits of English). Also being offered is a ZIP file of character avatars from the promo art. Good stuff (as per usual) in both cases and it's very nice to see the producers going so far with its media push.]

And as a neat little added bonus, trying checking out the site's source code… ;)

© BRS on TV

Black Rock Shooter

Debut: February 2, 2012
Director: Shinobu Yoshioka
Studios: Ordet, Sanzigen
Links: Official SiteANN Entry
Video: Nico Nico Douga, Niconico
Picture Source: As is from Official Site (top image)

Synopsis: [UPDATE (10/27/11): Nothing about Black Rock Shooter (TV)'s story has been announced yet, but most recent trailer suggests it will be an expanded retelling of the 2010 OVA's events. Check the update below for more information.]

Personal Take: Though the 2010 OVA (which was also chosen as HD's free/low-cost anime pick when it debuted online) received a somewhat mixed reception, I really enjoyed it. For Ordet's first chief animation production, they did a very impressive job and the story was surprisingly effective and strong for its brief hour-long runtime and simplicity. While I would definitely like to see a sequel (which seemed like a given, considering its success and how the OVA concluded), I most certainly would not mind a prequel, though it is entirely possible for it to be a standalone series. The backstory is ripe for exploration, as the intriguing world of the titular character was never really explained or laid out, as it primarily served as a juxtaposition to the events of the "real world" story. There were also a slew of other characters that had either not been introduced yet or were only shown for a brief time in the OVA, such as Black Gold Saw (shown in the background above in red (also shown with her distinctive red horns in a picture in the "Extras Gallery" at the bottom of the preview), who BRS fought in the beginning and inflicted her distinct scars upon) and Strength (the short, hooded girl with the massive, mechanical arms and a tail).

Then again, one has to wonder how they will fill in approximately 11 eps. with material, since there doesn't appear to be that much story behind BRS' world and its character dynamics (but that goes without saying, and besides, wouldn't that be the (possible) point of making this series, so you can find all of that stuff out?). It was very surprising seeing BRS TV announced for noitaminA, since it is only the second time a franchise series (with no previous ties to noitaminA) has appeared on the block (2008's Hakaba Kitaro, one of the many incarnations of the beloved Gegege no Kitaro manga and anime series) and because it is more of an otaku & merchandise-friendly series than most other shows on their block (which may be part of the point). Moreover, it just does not scream "noitaminA", though on the other hand, its independent spirit and uniqueness certainly falls in line with many of the block's other programming. Still, I am very much looking forward to what they will do and am crossing my fingers that young Ordet can pull through with their biggest assignment, yet.

Not only that, it's a pretty big time for supercell, too, who not only created Black Rock Shooter (or more precisely, member huke (Steins;Gate) did with a drawing prior to joining the group, where ryo made a song based on it and the former joined the latter's group to make the music video that propelled all of their successes), but are also involved in the making of GUILTY CROWN (as mentioned above), whose two-cour run will have the series coincide with BRS TV come January 2012. ryo did an outstanding job composing all of the great music in the BRS OVA (his first time scoring an anime, too, though you would never know it), so with any hope, he will return for the TV series, too (since he'll be busy co-scoring GC). Whatever happens, it must be quite the honor to have two series you're heavily involved in occupying both spots in one of anime's most prestigious blocks.

[UPDATE (10/27/11): By all appearance of its new preview trailer and site revamp, it appears as if BRS TV with be a retelling of the events of the OVA, but expanded with larger backstory and at eight episodes, not the usual noitaminA eleven. I can't say I like the softer designs or the alterations made to the human cast, even the whole feel of it, but I am glad to see the story will be told in a manageable 8 eps. than padded out (potentially) unnecessarily at 11 eps. Interesting that Sanzigen will be joining Ordet this time around, and you can see their stamp on it in some of the unconventional CG renders of the characters, a la Saki, 009 Re:Cyborg, and TIGER & BUNNY (and hey, you have to make-up for the lack of OVA-quality animation with the longer runtime, somehow). Their methodology results better than one would expect, and while it did not look too hot in the preview, hopefully it looks better when the broadcast hits the airwaves. And overall, the promise, story-wise, is still sort of there, so there are still things to forward to with the TV series…]

[UPDATE (01/10/12): Updated picture and staff information. Date now pushed back to February 2 (probably not a surprise, since it feels like the production had changed in scope over time). A new trailer also debuted not too long ago (#3 in the link), far better and more intriguing (not to mention good deal more grislier) than the previous one. This is also shaping up to be a multi-company collaboration, with the formation of holding firm Ultra Super Pictures, consisting of Ordet, Sanzigen, and new studio Trigger, as well as Nitroplus, pixiv, and Bushiroad. Not only are they producing it, Trigger's co-founder, Hiroyuki Imaishi (Gurren Lagann, Panty&Stocking with Garterbelt), will be handling the CGI battle scenes in the show (as clearly evident in the footage) as well. This information was actually released the same day as the last update, but I somehow never listed it until now. The production from all sides is looking much more appetizing, including Yoshioka returning as director, though I am wary of Mari Okada doing the scripts and script editing, given how I didn't like her jobs on the recent Fractale and AnoHana.]

Goody Stuff…: With the site still in its "teaser" infancy, there's really not a whole lot to get, right now. Although, if you liked the teaser trailer, which features snippets from the original "Black Rock Shooter" song, the OVA, and music from it, you can right-click and save it either in the MP4, M4V, or OGV format (don't ask why they made it available in so many ways…).

[UPDATE (01/10/12): The site, now fully launched (and nicely designed), hosts a character profile section with various pictures on rotation for each one, trailer section to watch all of the pasts promos, and an illustration gallery, which features the primary images used for the main page.]

[UPDATE (01/16/12): The show's official Facebook Page has a few pictures of the show, including screenshots from the second trailer.]

©2012 Mari Yamazaki/PUBLISHED BY ENTERBRAIN, INC./ "Thermae Romae" Animation Production Committee

Thermae Romae

Debut: January 12, 2012
Director: Azuma Tani (Executive: FROGMAN)
Studio: DLE Inc.
Links: Official SiteANN Entry (anime), ANN Entry (manga)ANN Article
Picture Source: As is from (article)

Synopsis: A failed Roman bath architech, while bathing his sorrows away, finds himself sucked away to an open bath in modern-day Japan…

Personal Take: I wish I could say more about Thermae Romae, but there is not too much more to it. Based on an award-winning comedic manga, it seems to play up the cultural mores and love of outdoor baths between the two very different peoples. Like much of this season's choices, TR is an odd one for noitaminA (awards aside) with its brevity, but similar to GUILTY CROWN and Black Rock Shooter, there is something of a marketing streak to it: a live-action adaptation of the manga opens on April 28 (ignoring the fact that the Roman main character is being played by a Japanese actor, but hey…). However, production work will be handled by noted Flash animation specialists DLE Inc. and executive director FROGMAN (Ryo Ono), of  Eagle Talon fame (who is also providing the lead's voice).

-Extras Gallery-
Pics edited for the preview: a few unused/retired pics, and misc. ones…

[First montage picture for preview (UN-GO, GUILTY CROWN, Black Rock Shooter).]

© BRS on TV
[First BRS promo picture; Taken as is from Official Site (top image)]

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