Thursday, April 17, 2014

:anime: HardDoor's Seasonal Anime Preview 2014 Special:: noitaminA (Spring, Summer)

Nine years and three days ago, on April 14, 2005, Fuji TV launched their "noitaminA" anime block with the series, Honey & Clover. With the aim of breaking the trend of and expanding the demographic of anime programing beyond young and teen boys, noitaminA would become the birthplace of antithetical works of the likes of Paradise Kiss, Hataraki Man, and Ayakashi/Mononoke.

The great success of the Nodame Cantabile franchise (still its biggest to date), Moyashimon, Library War, and Eden of the East, as well as the notoriety of the block's quality and content helped fuel noitaminA's expansion to a one-hour format for its fifth anniversary. Since then, it has experienced its share of sleepers (Shiki, Black Rock Shooter (TV)), diamonds-in-the-rough (read: critically-praised, but poor-selling) (Hourou Musoko/Wandering Son, Princess Jellyfish/Kuragehime), high-profile flops (Fractale, GUILTY CROWN (sold decently, but not up the lofty expectations of its hype or as well-received), Samurai Flamenco), big hits (AnoHana, Bunny/Usagi Drop, PSYCHO-PASS), and even a live-action series (an second adaptation of the Moyashimon manga).

In spite of a rough 2010-11 that posed a threat to its continued existence (Winter 2011's HM/WS and Fractale combo being especially trying), the block managed to rebound and now finds itself celebrating its upcoming tenth anniversary in a big way. Fuji TV announced a full slate of programming for the next year, which includes a new opening eyecatch by up-and-comer Hiroyasu Ishida (Tete) (which includes a related short by him, as well), a PSYCHO-PASS film, and a film project based on the works of late sci-fi author Project Itoh. Among the group of works premiering on television are ones from returning favorites (staff and studio alike), a few surprises, and PSYCHO-PASS 2. There will be more information to come for those respective titles, but we will be focusing on noitaminA's offerings for the spring and summer of 2014!

The aforementioned P-P, the centerpiece of the block's celebration, will be rebroadcast during the summer as 11, hour-long episodes with new footage, but there will still be a new series that will debut in July. As such, only the three new series will be documented here. And what a divergent bunch they are--much in the spirit of noitaminA's near decade-long history…

(And as an added bonus, in commemoration of the anniversary, each debuting noitaminA series through to the April 2015 milestone will automatically be their respective month's Free/Low-Cost Anime Pick(s) (providing that a distro method is made available, of course…)!

©2014 Kazuma Ootorino, ENTERBRAIN/Nanana Project

Nanana's Buried Treasure
Alt. Title: Ryuugajou Nanana no Maizoukin

Debut: April 10, 2014
Director: Kanta Kamei
Studio: A-1 Pictures
Links: Official Site, ANN Entry, MAL Entry
Video: Crunchyroll (subscribers-only simulcast, free on one-week delay), DAISUKI

Picture Source: Edited from noitaminA's news blog (posted image (original size))

Synopsis: Having been disavowed by his father, a teen boy is sent to special boarding school on an island. There, in his apartment, he encounters the ghost of a reclusive girl who cannot move on to the afterlife without discovering who had killed her years ago. With help from the school's treasure hunting club, he has to recover the mysterious trove of treasure she had buried on the island when she was alive, in hopes of finding the killer's identity.

Personal Take: Admittedly, when I first saw Nanana was getting an adaptation on noitaminA and with its more anime-typical-looking character designs, I thought it was strange to see it there. Of course, then I quickly remembered other seemingly odd-fitting works like Shiki, GUILTY CROWN, and Galilei Donna. NoitaminA shows, historically and by nature, tend to lean towards the more artistic or atypical style, but there are exceptions (even though they themselves have ties to the atypical…).

But I digress. Nanana's Buried Treasure sees the return of the block's new favorite go-to studio, A-1 Pictures, as well as big hit Bunny Drop's Kanta Kamei and Samurai Flamenco scribe Hideyuki Kurata (also of Read or Die, Kamichu!, Kannagi fame). The series is an adaptation of the award-winning novel series of the same name, which featured illustrations by the very talented Aka Ringo, one of my favorite Japanese artists.

Speaking of "atypical", he has a way of illustrating that's within "usual" anime look, but it is particular and he has a distinct and vibrant way of coloring and detailing, even down to the glassy jewel look he tends to do his eyes. Though his designs have been molded and simplified a bit for animation, A-1 Pictures and animation character designer Tetsuya Kawakami did a very good job at remaining true to them and his visual style (color and eyes included). They have that growingly uniform "A-1" look to them, but are still fresh and distinct enough.

Nanana's story sounds like it could be a very entertaining one. It could also relegate itself to otaku pandering and fanservice fluff based on some of the designs and Nanana herself being classifed as a NEET, but I doubt it, especially with the source novel series being the first from its category to win top honors at the Enterbrain Entertainment Awards in eight years. I also like how the male protagonist doesn't look or appear to act like your requisite milquetoast lead, but rather seems like something of troublemaker, or at least one with a mischievous side. It, like the designs, seem refreshing, and with the production looking like another high-quality outing from A-1, Nanana looks promising.

Goody Stuff…: The official site has a set of Twitter icons available for download in its "Special" page to celebrate having 5000 Twitter followers, as well as a set of wallpaper to commemorate hitting 7777 followers (hint: the number 7 in Japanese is "nana"…).

Eps. 1-3 Review: Nanana's Buried Treasure may be one of the more "typical-ish" anime shows to have appeared on noitaminA, but it possesses enough flavor and distinction to elevate above that. It does a pretty good job at establishing its story and setting up the quest for Nanana's treasure, as well as laying out the groundwork as to her significance with the artificial island's origins, which made the matters concerning her having collected treasures a lot easier to swallow. That was important, since, prior to the show, I was initially skeptical about how, why, and to what extent she was collecting so-called "treasure" (which turns out to be more fantastical than imagined).

However, the series still manages to make some expected missteps, namely in concentrating a little too much on fanservice elements (e.g. jiggling, blatant cleavage shots aplenty). Unfortunately, that kind of otaku bait appears to be prevalent in Japanese (light) novels, even the really good ones. There is also the matter of male protagonist Juugo acting a little too calm & casual (relatively-speaking) about touching & conversing with a ghost right off the bat. It feels more like an oversight than a sign of his character, in that he doesn't freak out over it in the slightest.

That aside, Juugo happens to be the shining spot of Nanana. His look and attitude is a welcome breath of fresh air from the usual bland, dime-a-dozen lead male (even one characters comments on his "troublemaker" looks). I thought nothing would have come of that apparent aspect, and though he still has something of a commonplace pervviness to him, his presence helps give the show more life. I also really enjoyed the performance of seiyuu Yuuki Ono and the deep, gruff voice he gives him, also an atypical touch.

In a strange way, Nanana is reminiscent of a mix between AnoHana (ghost-yet-to-move-on and the boy who helps her (did I mention both guys wear red t-shirts?)) and A Certain Scientific Railgun (advanced city setting, mystery concerning it and technology), though not in a mishmash way. It also seems to have inherited the former's logic-busting and inconsistent rules of ghost interactions with their environment, though maybe all may not be what it seems there. In closing, Nanana's Buried Treasure managed to put together a very good beginning with its first three episodes.

© Taiyou Matsumoto, Shogakukan / PingPong The Animation Committee

PingPong The Animation

Debut: April 10, 2014
Director: Masaaki Yuusa
Studio: Tatsunoko Production
Links: Official Site, ANN Entry, MAL Entry
Video:  FUNimation (subscribers-only simulcast), Crunchyroll (outside of North America; subscribers-only simulcast, free on one-week delay), Hulu (free on one-week delay), YouTube
Picture Source: Edited from Official Site (wallpaper)

Synopsis: Two friends, one exuburant and the other reserved, are members of their school's ping pong/table tennis club. Because of his persona, the latter, nicknamed "Smile", often lets the former, "Peko", win whenever they play, though their teacher sees through his game and the true talent that he possesses…

Personal Take: It just wouldn't be a noitaminA anniversary without something experimental, and experimenter extraordinaire Maaski Yuusa is the one for it. On top of that, I suppose it is only natural for someone one like him to pair up with experiment-loving Tatsunoko Production, and the end result looks pretty much like what you would expect: crazy and all-out-there.

No relation to the earlier (and also wacky) Ping Pong Club, PingPong The Animation is based on a manga by Taiyou Matsumoto, of Tenkkonkinkreet fame. He is known for his unusual style and visuals, so in the grand tapestry of red threads that hold this universe together, that the minds and talents of Yuusa, Tatsunoko, and Matsumoto (Esq.) should intersect each other at this juncture could have only been fate (or the work of producers that have a really good eye for putting projects and crews together).

The concept is rather straight forward and nothing new, and you'll likely see things coming a mile away (though knowing those involved, I wouldn't totally put a bet on that…), but it is that kind of openness that lends itself to some eclectic spins and impressive shows of execution. Yuusa's name alone makes me want to check it out, and the PVs and the rest definitely have me looking forward to this spring slate of noitaminA.

Goody Stuff…: Ping Pong's official site hosts two sets of Twitter icons and wallpaper for both computers and mobile devices (featuring the picture above, which it was taken from).

© Zankyou no Terror Production Committee

Zankyou no Terror
Alt. Title: Terror of Resonance, Terror in Resonance

Debut: July 10, 2014
Director: Shinichiro Watanabe
Studio: MAPPA
Links: Official Site, ANN Entry, MAL Entry
Video: FUNimation, Hulu
Picture Source: As is from ANN article (posted image)

Synopsis: A major act of terrorism shocks Tokyo, but it is not the act of men from other countries, but that of two Japanese high-school boys--and they have bigger plans in store for their nation…

Personal Take: I thought Watanabe's Kids on the Slope (Sakamichi no Apollon) would have been his only foray onto noitaminA, but he is making a rare "returning director" appearance with Zankyou no Terror. Outside of a handful, most noitaminA directors only show up once on the block and sometimes not even for the sequel (a rariety itself), and prior to his big directorial return to TV anime with the 2012 series, Watanabe hadn't touched that chair in eight years. Since then, he has been settling comfortably back in it, directing this past winter's Space Dandy at BONES (which is set to resume in the fall) and now tackling Zankyou no Terror back at MAPPA.

Kids on the Slope represented the start of a new, experimental phase in his career, tackling projects and subjects he had never done before. KotS was his first time doing an adaptation of a preexisting work and Space Dandy was his first time directing a straight-up comedy series. Now, Zankyou no Terror represents another venture into the unknown, not just for the veteran auteur, but perhaps for the anime industry, as a whole.

Terrorism is nothing new to anime as a plot device or element, but ZnT may perhaps be the first to take a modern, more realistic look at it. This would not be the first time Watanabe himself has used the subject, with Ep. 22 of Cowboy Bebop playing it up for laughs (with the bomber character being inspired by real-life terrorist Theodore Kaczynski (a.k.a. "The Unabomber") and Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (Knockin' on Heaven's Door) depicting it more seriously for the action film's plot. Zankyou no Terror represents Watanabe's first time using it for a series' focal point and (judging from the PV) his first piece to take place in modern times.

Additionally, it looks to be both his first serious and dark work, boldly contrasting with the goofier and lighthearted Space Dandy. The plot sounds very good and I hope it keeps itself grounded (i.e.: no Eden of the East or Code Geass-type elements or anything else too over-the-top) and plays itself "real world"-straight and within reason, as something along those lines could be quite interesting to see. I am a little concerned about the personalities of the two boys, though, which have been oft-employed (the "quite, dead-serious" one and the "quirky guy with a childlike persona (who likely has a more murderous and darker personality than his partner)"). Hopefully, that will not quite be the case.

I always admire seeing people step outside of their usual confines or break onto new ground, and it will be very intriguing to see what Watanabe will do within realm of straight-up drama and suspense. He's a very capable director and versatile, and with frequent collaborator Yoko Kanno supplying the score and Samurai Champloo's Kazuto Nakazawa the character designs, it is already shaping up to be impressive. Depending on its aim and execution, it may even be a seminal one for not only the director's portfolio, but also MAPPA's. After a lighter-load series in Teekyu and co-productions in KotS and Hajime no Ippo Rising, Zankyou no Terror will constitute as their first big solo production, with two more to come in the GARO adaptation and Shingeki no Bahamut Genesis. It will stand as the first big test for the spiritual successor of Madhouse and how well Masao Maruyama's new baby will do.

Goody Stuff…: Following the anime's official Twitter page from its official website will yield you downloadable wallpaper as a show of gratitude.

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