Tuesday, April 17, 2012

:anime: HardDoor's Seasonal Anime Preview 2012 Special:: noitaminA (Spring, Summer)

Hard to believe that it has been a year already since I started doing seasonal previews for Fuji TV's venerable noitaminA anime block. What started off as a one-shot special preview for what looked to be an outstanding spring-summer lineup last April, has turned into perhaps the most popular feature on HardDoor, with that preview and the most recent being the second and third most-read posts here. More or less, it has become something of a regular feature on HD, but that is more of a testament to the continuing allure that is noitaminA's programming. Its pedigree has yielded a deserved amount of attention and anticipation with its varied, challenging (in more ways than one), and often high-caliber quality of work. Even when a recent work, for instance, in GUILTY CROWN turned out to be a rare disappointment for the block, there were still surprises to be found in the sleeper Black Rock Shooter and Thermae Romae.

This year's tandem of spring and summer offerings seems to have brought everything full-circle from a year ago with another very strong selection: one from [C] - CONTROL's Kenji Nakamura, another a returning fan-favorite, one representing a step-up for a studio accustomed to mostly assistance work and fluff pieces, and one particular title being the highly anticipated return and reunion of a famed director and composer duo. So, once again, let's take a look at what lies ahead for noitaminA!

© tsuritama partners


Debut: April 12, 2012
Director: Kenji Nakamura
Studio: A-1 Pictures
Links: Official SitenoitaminA English SiteANN Entry
Video: Crunchyroll, The Anime Network
Picture Source: As is from Official Site (top image)

Synopsis: A socially-awkward high-schooler gets corralled into the world of fishing by a strange boy claiming to be an alien, one with great interest in experiencing the activity for himself. He also befriends a smart, but standoffish, classmate/master fisherman from there, and from a distance, a mysterious Indian boy with a pet duck is monitoring them all. However, the small island they all dwell on will soon become the setting for something big, if not earth-shattering…

Personal Take: NoitaminA's favorite son returns once again! The producers have made no bones in showing their love for director Kenji Nakamura and his work after his star-making splash with his "Bakemono" story arc in  2006's Ayakashi - Samurai Horror Tales (not to be confused with BONES' Ghost Slayer Ayashi). After following it up with the highly-praised spinoff series Mononoke (no relation to Ghibli's Princess Mononoke), the eccentric Nakamura would go on to achieve similar notoriety with 2009's Kuuchuu Buranko/Trapeze (Welcome to Irabu's office :), and yes, that is its official English title… :P ), and would also direct last year's aforementioned [C] - CONTROL.

With tsuritama, it will be his fifth noitaminA series helmed--more than any other director (also counting "Bakemono" as there was no one director for Ayakashi). In fitting with his previous works, there is a particular visual flair to go along with the equally sublime storyline, and as with [C], Nakamura sought out popular artist Atsuya Uki (Cencoroll) to provide the character designs (the overall look and colorization of the show even falls in line with his own illustrative style). The weirdness factor looks to be its main selling point, but with Nakamura's small but impressive portfolio, he should be able to make good use of it.

As far as the first episode goes, it turned out to be much better than I was expecting. It was neat seeing Uki's aesthetics come to eye-popping life and A-1's requisite beautiful backgrounds, but more so seeing Nakamura use his artistry to get across the lead's paralyzing nervousness and conveying the sort of story he was aiming for. It was a good balance of eccentricity, artistic liberty, straightforward storytelling, and introspection, and it gave tsuritama a promising outlook of what is to come…

Goody Stuff…: On the opposite side of the flashy scale when compared to [C]'s dark-shaded and complex imagery, tsuritama's official website goes the bright and colorful route with its ocean/fishing-related design. It has undergone a number of refreshes (each very neat in their own right), and its current incarnation has a rotating fishing line linking to a good amount of extra content. One looks to lead to a series of audio messages from the characters themselves, while others lead to trailers, illustrations (via "Special"), and a gallery of pre-production sketches (via "Special").

The most interesting and unique of these, however, may be their "tsuribori" fishing game, where your objective is to simply catch as many with your line as possible within the given allotment of time. Move your mouse side-to-side and click when you want let your line down (TIP: Whatever your hook touches, you catch, and at the same time, you can still move around the screen and control its depth of descent. The more catches, the better…). Certain aquatic life and objects are worth more points than others, and if you are successful at reaching 500 pts., you'll unlock a set of wallpaper (one of them a humorous take on the characters).

© Shougakukan, Yuki Kodama/"Sakamichi no Apollon" Production Committee

Kids on the Slope
Alt. Title: Sakamichi no Apollon

Debut: April 12, 2012
Director: Shinichiro Watanabe
Studios: Tezuka Productions, MAPPA
Links: Official Site, Official English Site, ANN Entry
Video: Crunchyroll, The Anime Network, Hulu
Picture Source: Edited from Official English Site (top image)

Synopsis: A young classically-trained pianist who has recently moved in with relatives becomes unlikely friends with a boisterous high-school delinquent, who happens to be well-versed on the drums. His love of jazz rubs off on the aloof musician and through it, he begins to open up and make new friends with other jazz-loving players.

Personal Take: When Sakamichi no Apollon was first announced at the end of December, I was somewhat ambivalent to it. With its initial bare-boned synopsis in an ANN article about a boy, new in town, meeting another boy in a tale of "love, friendship, and music" in 1960s Japan, it sounded a little interesting and something up noitaminA's alley, but didn't have too much of a hook either, nor was I too into the shounen-ai it seemed to hint at. Then came the pre-debut website's picture of two boys and a girl, which alleviated that feeling a bit, but not the notion that felt vague and like "treaded ground" by noitaminA.

That all changed in a month later, however, when a bombshell announcement made it sound like a dream come true. Cowboy Bebop's Shinichiro Watanabe would not only be directing Sakamichi no Apollon, but would be reuniting with composer Yoko Kanno for the first time since that series' 2001 movie. Escaflowne's Nobuteru Yuki--fresh off his inexplicable turn in the fanservice-saturated Maken-ki!--was tasked with character designs and the animation production would be handled by Tezuka Productions and Madhouse semi-spinoff MAPPA. With the original manga being having been honored with a prestigious Shogakukan Manga Award and said "music" in the show being my favorite in "jazz" (alongside classical music…who knew?), Sakamichi no Apollon (now marketed under roughly-translated title of "Kids on the Slope") immediately shot up my list (and many others, based on the CB reunion, alone) as the most anticipated show of the spring season. That personal fave YUKI is performing the Kanno-composed OP theme is just icing on the cake, with perhaps the first trailer as the cherry on top.

That very trailer did seem to accentuate those shounen-ai vibes from before, and such subject matter wouldn't be new territory for either noitaminA (Antique Bakery, NO.6) or even Shinichiro Watanabe, who has shown to be supportive of LGBT in Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, and his attachment to the cancelled anime movie T.A.t.U Paragate, which was to have been based on the lesbian Russian pop duo's act. Given the two lead males, that seems like an odd pair (likely as on-purpose as their friendship) but regardless, it will be interesting to see where the show, as a whole, goes. I like coming-of-age stories and the idea that music (jazz, at that, with both standards and Kanno-composed pieces) will be at the center of it makes it all the more enticing. Watanabe only directs every so often, too, so seeing everything that is going into KotS/SnA, is making the series a real treat to look forward to.

The first episode did a nice job introducing everything and the show has a good feel and look to it, with some incredible animation work during the big drum solo seen in the aforementioned trailer (and it's even better here). Some of the shounen-ai vibes, meanwhile, looked to be the result of some misconception based on what occurs in the actual episode. However, for a show centered around jazz, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to have pop OP and ED themes. They're pretty good, mind you, but belong to the wrong show, which makes even less sense when YUKI has sung jazz pieces before and ED singer Motohiro Hata sounds like he is capable of it, himself. Everything else is good, but having such disparate bookends interferes with the show's flow.

© 2012 Haruka Kawachi/Shodensha/"Natsuyuki Rendezvous" Animation Production Committee

Natsuyuki Rendezvous

Debut: July 5, 2012
Director: Kou Matsuo
Studio: Dogakobo
Links: Official Site, ANN Entry
Video: Crunchyroll, Hulu
Picture Source: Edited from Official Site (top image)

Synopsis: A young man becomes infatuated with the comely owner a floral shop--so much so, he applies as a part-time employee. There is one problem, though: the spirit of her deceased husband is still around…

Personal Take: Despite not ever hearing of the manga it is based on, Natsuyuki Rendezvous is looking very promising, thanks to its storyline, look, and impressive trailer. It doesn't hurt to see Red Garden's Kou Matsuo attatched as director, either, but of reasonable interest is Dogakobo handling the animation production. It is a studio more accustomed to handling secondary animation work and has only done four full animation productions: eroge adaptations 11eyes and A Bridge to the Starry Skies (Hoshizora e Kakeru Hashi), the supernatural detective drama Ryoko's Case Files, and last year's yuri-fied moefest, YuruYuri. While Ryoko showed that the studio is capable of more-serious fare, NR represents a true step-up for the near 40-year-old studio, handling a title on one of the anime industry's biggest stages. It appears to be in good hands with the experienced Matsuo and has a very pleasing look to it (with gorgeous character work provided by studio mainstay Junichiro Taniguchi), so here's to hoping that it turns out as good as it appears to be…

© Masayuki Ishikawa, Kodansha/Moyashimon Production Committee

Moyashimon Returns

Debut: July 5, 2012
Director: Yuichiro Yano
Studios: Shirogumi Inc., Telecom Animation Film
Links: Official SiteANN Entry
Video: Crunchyroll
Picture Source: Edited from Official Site (top image)

Synopsis: The tales of a young man at an agricultural college who can "see" and talk to microbes (or, at least, characterizations of them) continues in Moyashimon Returns!

Personal Take: The adorable CG microbes return in this sequel to noitaminA's early hit in Moyashimon: Tales of Agriculture. That series may have been the second time I had ever seen a noitaminA show, though I had no real idea of what that was or what the eyecatch at the beginning was all about. What made Moyashimon particularly interesting was the mix between the cute (in its cel-shaded mascots) and the mature/risque (from its humor and twists, to its well-researched and informative look at fermentation and alcohol). I wasn't expecting some of the things the show did or its emphasis on non-family-friendly subjects like booze with the appearance of the critters, but it was a nice, bold change of pace.

Overall, it was a very good and funny show and it is perhaps of no small surprise that it is the only noitaminA series to spout both a sequel and a live-action adaptation on the block (its only non-animated show to date). The much of the same staff has returned from the 2005 iteration, and judging by the trailer, it has largely retained the same look, too, hi-def upgrade aside (as well as the lead character's design, which looks softer). The microbes have a more sophisticated, seamless CG look to them and it'll enjoy delving right back into it. And hopefully, the original series will see the stateside release it so richly deserves one day, as well.

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