Friday, October 10, 2014

:anime: HardDoor's Seasonal Anime Preview 2014-15 Special:: noitaminA (Autumn, Winter)

The autumn season is upon us and so is the second leg of noitaminA's 10th anniversary celebration! For the fall season, the much-pushed and -anticipated Your lie in April (Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso) and PSYCHO-PASS 2 will debut, with the former stretching into the winter season and Saenai heroine no sodate-kata. taking latter's slot then. With the number of returning favorites both on- and behind-the-screen, in addition to the amount of heavy-hitting new contributors and elevated profiles of these other anniversary projects to come, perhaps the best fit theme here would be "great expectations"…

Let's not waste any more time, here's noitaminA's upcoming slate for the autumn and winter 2014-15 seasons!!

(…But before we make haste,here's a friendly remember that all noitaminA series debuting throughout the duration of the block's anniversary will automatically be the "Free/Low-Cost Anime Pick" for their respective months (given that it a distro is available)!!)

© PSYCHO-PASS Committee


Debut: October 9, 2014
Director: Naoyoshi Shiotani (Series: Kiyotaka Suzuki)
Studio: Tatsunoko Production
Links: Official Site, ANN Entry, MAL Entry
Video [Free {Streaming}]:, Hulu
Picture Source: Edited from Anime Digital article (posted image)

Synopsis: After the fallout from PSYCHO-PASS' conclusion, Akane Tsunemori continues her policing duties under the eye of the Sibyl System, but something dangerous is afoot that could turn everything onto its head…

Personal Take: I have not been too warm about PSYCHO-PASS, either before the series began or through its halfway point, where I am currently at. It tries to be something significant and it has strives to provide commentary, but it does nothing remarkable or groundbreaking on either of those fronts. The biggest issues I have had with it have been its overly-morose storylines (including the contradictorily-messy way criminals are dispatched, given how "peace" is at the core of society's goals) and the way women seem to be singled-out for the lion's-share of the brutality.

I like dark, depressing, moody shows, but mainly when there is a good sense of purpose and realization with the concept and setting, and that they do not become too fixated on their more gruesome or darker aspects. P-P, unfortunately, overdoes it, and not only does it feel excessively grimy, its more extreme content feels too over-the-top and incredible to mesh with an otherwise semi-realistic, near-future world. It has been a slog to get through, but I will still try to see the series through to its end. Hopefully, it will improve, so in the meantime, I will continue to avoid spoilers for the show and its sequel.

One surprising element for P-P2 is the differing staffs between the two seasons. Tatsunoko Pro., not Production I.G, is handling the animation production, famed novelist Tow Ubukata (Mardock Scramble, Le Chevalier D'Eon, Fafner: Dead Aggressor) is taking Gen Urobuchi's place as series compositor, and first-time series director Kiyotaka Suzuki is filling Katsuyuki Motohiro's seat, though Naoyoshi Shiotani remains as the director and Motohiro and Urobuchi as planning supervisors.

Though Tatsunoko spun-off I.G, the powerhouse now owns a 11.2% stake in their pioneering dad, who has since seen an uptick in output and an expanded partnership with their darling boy. The shift may perhaps be due to the PSYCHO-PASS movie that is due out on January 9, 2015, which Urobuchi and fellow series scribe Makoto Fukami have been penning. Motohiro may also have his hands a bit more full now after joining I.G, but the second season certainly did not receive slouches to take their stead. Here's to it being an improvement over what I have seen thus far…

© Naoshi Arakawa, Kodansha / "Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso" Production Commitee

Your lie in April
Alt. Titles: Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso, KimiUso, April is Your Lie

Debut: October 9, 2014
Director: Kyouhei Ishiguro
Studio: A-1 Pictures
Links: Official Site, Official English Site, ANN Entry, MAL Entry
Video [Free {Streaming}]: Aniplex Channel, Crunchyroll, Hulu
Picture Source: Slightly modified (de-transparent) from Official Site (main image)

Synopsis: A teen piano prodigy who had lost his ability following his mother's passing finds his life beginning to change after meeting a free-spirited violinist…

Personal Take: The most anticipated and pushed title for the fall from Aniplex and noitaminA (perhaps hyped more than even PSYCHO-PASS 2, which has enough of a headwind on its own), Your lie in April certainly looks like a title that has a lot of dreams and money thrown at it. That much was evident from the jaw-dropping beauty observed in its first trailer. Part of that comes courtesy of surprise contributor Yukiko Aikei (Accel World, Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere), who is undertaking her first major job outside of Sunrise as character designer and chief animation director. She has a very distinct design style and has turned in crisp, colorful, and well-animated production work, which looks to have meshed as well as expected with A-1's capacity for HQ work. This is her first time in either of those series-level positions that she will be adapting someone else's designs, though the end result still appear to look very, very nice, while retaining her some of her trademark flourishes (AW and Horizon, adaptations themselves, were rendered much more in her own style).

As if going out of their way to nab a top-flight talent from another studio was not enough of an indicator of where the show's projections have lied, they have gone as far as to preface a trailer with Nodame Cantabile's mascot to remind viewers of the start date. NC--even in the midst of successes like AnoHana, Eden of the East, PSYCHO-PASS, Moyashimon, and Library War--was by far the biggest hit in noitaminA's near-decade existence, scoring record ratings that no other series in the block have matched.

It is perhaps no mistake that both it and Your lie in April are music-based anime, ones adapted from Kodansha Manga Award-winning works, and both of whom focus on the romance between a talented male musician (NC: piano/violin, YliA: piano) on the outs and the eccentric female musician (NC: piano, YliA: violin) that relights his world. Those similarities do not sound coincidental, and considering that noitaminA is in the middle of celebrating its milestone, it their selection of YliA seems even less so. NC was one of its earliest titles, and now noitaminA has a new "Nodame Cantabile" (with younger, teenaged set of characters) for a new generation of viewers. After all, it will be six years to the day that its sequel, Nodame Cantabile: Paris, debuted…

All of that aside, Your lie in April looks like it could be a true winner. The story has been trodden beyond NC, but it remains a potent one given the right hands. That remains to be seen in first-time series director Kyouhei Ishiguro and series compositor/screenwriter Takao Yoshioka, who helped oversee and pen the scripts for Elfen Lied and WATAMOTE, but also did so for Ikki Tousen and Daimidaler (and a pretty sizable amount of other fanservice shows, though I do not expect that in YliA). The show, as noted and from multiple trailers showing different footage, looks pretty, well, pretty, and hopefully will stay that way consistently (not a given even for high-profile shows, though Aikei has a good track record). Big shows do not always turn out great or that impressive, but hopefully Your lie in April will, and maybe exceed, expectations.

©2015 Fumiaki Maruto, Kurehito Misaki, KADOKAWA Fujimi Shobou/Saenai Production Committee

Saenai heroine no sodate-kata.
Alt. Title: Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend.

Debut: January 8, 2015
Director: Kanta Kamei
Studio: A-1 Pictures
Links: Official Site, Official English Site, ANN Entry, MAL Entry
Video: Aniplex Channel, Crunchyroll, Hulu
Picture Source: Slightly modified (de-transparent) from Official Site (main image)

Synopsis: A group of aspiring high-school students, all bringing something particular to the table, attempt to complete a doujin game in time for the big annual Comic Market (Comiket) event.

Personal Take: Saenai heroine no sodate-kata., when it debuts, will be the 50th noitaminA title to air on the block. That is quite the achievement, as well the distinction and honor for the series. Whether the programming block will acknowledge that remains to be seen, as on the surface, the show does not appear to be terribly distinct or noteworthy for that. It seems reminiscent of other "high-schoolers attempt the improbable and publish their own [insert form of otaku entertainment]"-kind of show and nothing you would automatically expect on noitaminA (though the appearances of GUILTY CROWN, Black Rock Shooter (TV), and Nanana's Buried Treasure (to a lesser extent) in recent years suggest otherwise).

In spite of that, there are a few interesting aspects about Saenai. One of them happens to be the interconnectivity between the members of the group. Their founder/leader created a character that was inspired by a chance meeting with a girl who happens to go the same school he does. He's also a fan of a particular novel, which was secretly written by a top student there, as well. Those two girls/eventual members share some kind of connection to the male protagonist, and while that alone sounds like every other anime ever made, the way it is laid out gives it some level of intrigue and interest seeing how the plot comes together and turns out.

Providing a modicum of reassurance is the return--once more--of Kanta Kamei, directing his third noitaminA series--his second in less than a year. He turned many a head with his TV directorial debut on Bunny Drop, and showed why a somewhat-odd selection like Nanana was chosen for noitaminA. The latter is important to keep in mind, as Saenai looks to be an even bigger head-scratcher. Nanana also proved to be much "fresher" than it appeared, yet still managed to contain itself and be more substantive than one might extract from its premise (and in unexpected ways). That's not an easy line to walk, but Kamei was able to make it all work somehow. If Saenai has that kind of depth beneath its otaku-flavored veneer, we might have another rewarding show on hand.

One other reason for hope is that the author of the originating novel series, Fumiaki Maruto, will be the one penning the screenplay--a first in noitaminA's history. Being the farthest one out at the time of this posting, there is not a whole lot of animation visuals to go by for the series, beside the one posted above. The novel series featured illustrations by Kurehito Misaki (one of my favorite artists), but his style does not show too well in the picture. I have often wondered if it would transfer well to animation, in spite of its apparent anime-friendly aesthetics, though I'll have to wait for more footage and design work before saying anything else. On the other hand, A-1 Pictures will be fulfilling their role as the block's current favorite go-to again (for a record ninth time and counting; thank frequent producer Aniplex for that one), as they occupy the winter slate with Saenai and the continuing Your lie in April.

While it is difficult to say with any certainty at this moment what to fully expect from a series like Saenai heroine no sodate-kata., the staff accompanying it brightens its prospects a little. K-ON! fans may also be happy to know that the series' composer, Hajime Hyakkoku, will be scoring this title as well.

[UPDATE (01/07/15): After being able to read a more detailed synopsis of the plot at the official English site, it appears that the leader also aspires to use the game as a means of crafting the "perfect" girlfriend with his "muse" as the basis, who in reality is quite boring (hence the title). It sounds as much like a warped, headshake-worthy otaku wish-fulfillment aspect as it does a prime avenue to address and skewer it. Given its noitaminA, I will cautiously lean towards the latter's way. Less uncertain is what appears to be a strange incorporation of CGI animation, intercut within the traditional 2D animation. A slowly-increasing number of shows per season have been gambling with the style, but it remains less than seamless. The character animation side in Japanese CGI still looks too bland and smooth, despite its in-roads—and that is not doing Saenai's 2D ones any favors…]

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