Summer 2016 Anime Season: What to Watch – Part 1

So a few weeks ago, I said I would do a sort of “summer season so far” post. Well, when you’re writing a book, it has a way of catching up to you and delaying all your other projects. Still, I wanted to make sure I had this done before the first month of the season was over, so here we are.

We’re now several episodes into each of these shows, making it a little less “preview” than I wanted. Luckily, we’re only at episode 4-5 at most: so there’s still plenty of time to catch up anything you weren’t watching. And there’s a lot to watch: summer has an incredible number of shows, and a pretty high number of them are worth a shot! There’s a little bit for everyone, from comedies to dramas, to sports to idol shows, to slice-of-life. There are even a couple of historical fiction series. (Is it just me, or is anime making more of those? I like this trend. Please continue.)

This was originally a single post, but it was getting crazy long, especially for the higher entries. So I’m going to put #6-12 on here. The top 5 will go up later this week. This list will not include short series, but I might do a post on them later.

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#12 Cheer Boys

I don’t think there’s ever been as fangirl-friendly a premise as “boy’s cheerleading team.” I’m definitely of the fangirl mode in a lot of my tastes, so I went into Cheer Boys expecting to love it.

I didn’t…at first. The first episode was a little slow-paced, and it wasn’t helped by the occasionally sloppy animation. Luckily, by the second episode, it was already a lot better, and kept improving as the group added more members.

What’s interesting about this show is that, even though everyone is based on the same archetypes as every other sports show (for example, the glasses character has a very similar personality to Rei from Free!), they feel and act more like real people. They’re like the more realistic, grounded versions of those archetypes. Watching Cheer Boys, you feel like you’re sitting in on a real college club as they get themselves together.

Oh yeah, that’s the other thing: these characters are in college. How often do we get that in anime? So many high school shows, so few college ones.

Current Episode Count: 5/12. Streaming Tuesdays on Funimation

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#11 The Morose Mononokean

The Morose Mononokean follows a boy named Ashiya whose first day of high school is ruined by an energy-stealing yokai (a sort of Japanese nature spirit). When he calls an exorcist after many unsuccessful nurse office visits, he gets the creature off his back, but to pay for the service he’s now working as the exorcist’s assistant. This leads to Ashiya gaining a deeper understanding of these quirky creatures he’s supposed to exorcise, and the colorful world from which they came.

If this series is low, it’s only because this season is so stellar. If you’ve been reading my ANN reviews, you know I’m loving The Morose Mononokean. Its most recent episodes weren’t quite on the level of the previous three, but there’s still a lot to love about this show–and that sets it apart from other supernatural comedies.

Where others just stick to the biting humor, The Morose Mononokean has a big heart, making you well up with tears when you’re not laughing. It’s almost better at being a heartwarming slice-of-(magical)-life than it is at being funny, though there are lots of laughs to go around, too. Each yokai has a cuddly story that teaches a lesson about the need to appreciate, understand and value all life, making The Morose Mononokean sort of like a bishonen comedy version of Mushishi. Not nearly on that show’s level of quality, of course, but still a very special thing on its own.

Current Episode Count: 5/13. Streaming Sundays on Crunchyroll.

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#10 New Game!

I didn’t expect to love New Game! as much as I am, but from the first episode, I was hooked. Maybe, between this and Shirobako, “workplace comedy” is my kind of moe show, because this series is one of my most anticipated going into each week.

New Game! follows Aoba, a teenage girl fresh out of high school, and living the dream as a video game character designer. She’s at the company that made her favorite game, and now she gets to work on the sequel! Along the way, she meets the colorful characters who populate this all-female company, from a shy girl who can’t talk except through IM, to the goofy head of the art department who sleeps by her desk in her underwear.

The show doesn’t include nearly as much about game design as Shirobako did about anime production, so you might be a little disappointed if that’s why you’re watching. (There are a few details here and there, though, especially in episode 3, where Aoba has her first real crack at creating NPCs.) What it is great at is capturing the experience of your first job, and the camaraderie among female friends striving for their dreams. Which is another really strong thread in Shirobako, so if you loved the relationships on that show, I’d highly recommend checking out this younger sister anime.

Current Episode Count: 5/12. Streaming Mondays on Crunchyroll.

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#9 Battery

Amazon’s first show from its deal with Noitamina was the very atypical Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, a bombastic action show from the director of Death Note and Attack on Titan. It was a strange expectation-setter, when most of Noitamina’s shows tend to be more understated teen dramas and slice-of-life. Battery is closer to that mold, as a baseball anime about the friendship between two boys, from the creator of another Noitamina series, No. 6. Which, of course, means it might turn out to be something more than friendship down the line, but it’s hard to tell from these early episodes.

Either way, Battery is a very soothing character drama, the sort of series that gets labeled iyashikei (or “healing anime”). That might make it too slow for some, and it was for me at first, but it’s slowly crept into my heart as the episodes have worn on. This one doesn’t grab at the strong emotions of adolescent life the way that something like Orange does, but it has that same understated appreciation for the complexities of teenage relationships, whether that be with friends, family or their passions (baseball).

Current Episode Count: 3/11. Streaming Thursdays on Amazon Prime.

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#8 Mob Psycho 100

What a visual marvel. Mob Psycho 100 comes from the same mangaka as One-Punch Man, and reflects ONE’s iconic character designs just as that series did. Mob Psycho 100, though, takes it a step further. It’s animated by Studio BONES, and they take the series through a dizzying array of art styles. The second episode alone ranges from charcoal drawings to actual painting effects (as seen above). The featured image for this article is also from the series, just to get a sense of its range of art styles.

Originally, I had this series lower on the list because it seemed too thin on the plot and characters. Mob Psycho 100 is comedy about a psychic teenage boy trying to figure out his place in the world, while he works at an exorcist shop. (Is something in the water this anime season?) It’s funny and self-aware, with nods to other anime. It has nothing on One-Punch Man‘s affectionate parody of shonen superheroes, but it’s a hilariously surreal walk through teenage life in its own way.

And as of episode 3, it’s started to show some serious promise of its own on the writing front. The third episode featured a strange cult that hypnotized its followers into laughter and happiness, no matter how skeptical they were…everyone, except protagonist Mob, because he has no emotions. Rather than dismiss him as creepy and weird, Mob Psycho 100 decides to explore this side of Mob, and the social consequences he’s felt for lacking such a basic component of humanity. When the cult leader continues to push this button…let’s just say it does not end well for him.

So, bit by bit, Mob Psycho 100 is revealing its cards, making it clearer what kind of story it wants to be. Still, it’s the aesthetics that make Mob Psycho 100 such a marvel, They’re like nothing you’ve ever seen before in anime, and make the series well worth checking out.

Current Episode Count: 4/12. Streaming Mondays on Crunchyroll.

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#7 Sweetness and Lightning

Sweetness and Lightning should be familiar for fans of Bunny Drop (before the latter got gross, anyway). It’s the sweet story of a single dad and his daughter. In this case, it’s not that the daughter is adopted, but that her mother has passed away. Her father has to learn how to care for his preschool-aged tyke all on his own, while also navigating his job as a high school teacher. Luckily, he makes friends along the way, including with one of his students, whose family owns a restaurant and who helps him with making meals for his daughter when her mom is away.

The series lives up pretty well to the first word in its title. It’s basically just a big chunk of heartwarming every week, as we watch the tiny family make their way through the world. Tsumugi, the daughter on the show, acts like a real preschooler, getting in fights and misunderstandings with her friends at school, excited and curious about everything she comes across in the world. The relationship between the dad, Kohei, and the student, Kotori, so far shows no chance of heading into Creepytown. They’re just people who’ve found a family of their own in the absence of their real ones.

Oh yeah, and the food always looks delicious. The series also shows them making it step by step, so maybe if you paused a lot you could take down the recipes yourself!

Current Episode Count: 5/12. Streaming Mondays on Crunchyroll.

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#6 Planetarian

Planetarian is based on a Key visual novel, a phrase that comes with a lot of baggage. What makes this one different is that it’s a pretty early work from the studio, pre-Clannad, that’s just now getting an OVA. There’s a cute, sad girl, but the story has a strong emotional core based in real human feeling. That’s despite the fact that the girl is a chipper robot living in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

The robot girl runs a planetarium and still enthusiastically greets any “customers” and offers a presentation, oblivious to the changes in her world. The story is based on her encounter with a gruff, jaded man who stumbles into the planetarium. There’s a cliché Manic-Pixie-Dream-Girl sheen to the premise, of the cute, perky girl who has a brief encounter with a sad boy and gives meaning to his life, etc., but I think there’s more to Planetarian than that. There’s also a larger question about what life does mean in such a bleak, uncompromising world, where all the usual trappings of civilization are gone. As of the most recent episode, I get the impression that Yumemi, our robot girl, is wiser to the realities of her life than she lets on, and her continuing to play the planetarium attendant is her way of giving her life a purpose.

Planetarian also just appeals to me as someone who always wanted post-apocalyptic stories to be more about the people and less about the circumstances of their world’s demise. Sure, that stuff is fascinating in its own way, especially if there’s some meaty theme behind it, but don’t you always wish you knew more about everyday lives in these hypothetical futures? I did. Planetarian is pretty much all character drama, with very little fleshing-out of the world beyond the characters’ mundane observations. It’s a really simple, but surprisingly effective thing.

Also, it’s only five episodes! So when it finishes this week, you could breeze through it in an afternoon.

Current Episode Count: 4/5. Streaming Thursdays on Funimation.

That’s all for now! Tune in later this week for the top five.


2 thoughts on “Summer 2016 Anime Season: What to Watch – Part 1

  1. Pingback: Summer 2016 Anime Season: What to Watch – Part 2 | Rose's Turn

  2. New Game is okay, but I haven’t enjoyed it as much as I was hoping. Planetarian and Sweetness & Lighting were great.

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