Spring 2022 Preview and Video cohort
Spring 2022 Preview and Video Companion
In many years spring is anime’s main course, but in 2022 it looks like the appetizer.
I don’t know what kind of season Spring 2022 will turn out to be – we never know for sure until it happens. It certainly looks a step up from winter (as is normal). But my instinctive reaction when I started putting this preview together was that when one considers how many big series announcements we’ve seen, Spring 2022 looks fairly tame. There are some prospects to be sure, but few of the headliners are here (only one huge name for me). And none of the truly massive sequels already announced – those will all come later in the year (or, as I increasingly suspect will be the case with at least a couple, 2023).
As occurs with almost unerring regularity, I’m previewing about a third of the full schedule this spring (16 series out of 49, if one includes Netflix). I’m amazed that this seems to happen season after season but indeed it does. Something like 50 shows isn’t huge for spring by modern standards, though it clearly still exceeds the industry’s production capacity (as witness the black company working conditions which have become the norm).
There’s no question in my mind that the big dog is Spy X Family (the “X” is silent, like after/before “Hunter”). It’s one of my two candidates for the next monster hit, has a big-name director and studio, and a source material that’s both widely acclaimed and a huge seller. There are sequels on the board that are sure to be commercial powerhouses (Kaguya and Komi in the same season, for example) though none of those are of much interest to me. Indeed, in my sphere it’s an extraordinarily light season for sequels, with only Kingdom and the Netflix-dumped Tiger & Bunny likely to be shows I follow.
The mix looks pretty 2020’s normally to me, overall. Something like a dozen LN adaptations and half that many originals and game adaptations. No genres jump out as spiking – a couple of sports shows, maybe slightly less CGTCT than in some seasons. If anything the overall block appears slightly slanted towards comedies and “lighter” material as opposed to action and serious drama. Is that a positive? Well, I adore anime comedy when done well so in theory, sure. But the batting average for comedies, romantic and otherwise, has not been great these last few years. Here’s hoping…
As always the LiA preview comes with a video companion (also embedded at the end of this post). If you enjoy that or any of my videos I would be enormously grateful if you’d consider subscribing – helping me reach that magic 1000 number is a great way of helping out LiA reach sustainability. I look forward to your feedback as I fine-tune the video productions – please share your thoughts either here or over on YT. And as always, my sincere thanks for your support.
Let’s move on to the preview. As usual, the poll is in the sidebar – please go vote!
Spy X Family – Wit/CloverWorks: (PV) Setting aside my personal anticipation level (and it’s not far off there, either) this adaptation of Endo Tatsuya’s manga is the clear headliner this season. It’s one of my two candidates to be the next commercial monster (in the footsteps of Jujutsu Kaisen and Tokyo Revengers), for a number of reasons. It seems to be something of a perfect storm – a manga that’s both massively popular and critically loved, Wit co-producing, a big name director, a tremendous amount of buzz. Most of the betting is on Chainsaw Man, but I wouldn’t be shocked if it’s this series that tops the commercial rankings for franchises that have 2022 anime premieres.
S x F is one of those series (you can add Frieren and Witch Hat now) that have been on my reading list forever, but put on hold when the anime was announced. I’ve scanned it a bit, I like what I see, and it’s hard to find a reader who says anything bad about it. I have no idea if it’s truly great, but it certainly has the “it” factor in the water cooler department. The story of the titular spy family (featuring an esper stepdaughter), it seems to have the right combination of wit, grit, and sheer creative ambition to cross over into the mainstream. And in Anya (the daughter) it has a secret weapon that’s given it big appeal with younger kids and female readers. With Wit co-producing (with CloverWorks), Furuhashi Kazuhiro directing, and two (split) cours to start with, all the pieces seem to be in place for a major, major splash.
Spy X Family isn’t a perfect candidate to be a colossal hit – but then neither is Chainsaw Man (it may be a bit too gruesomely dark), and I certainly wouldn’t have pegged JJK or TR to be as big as they’ve become. S x F isn’t a WSJ series, which makes it harder to join that most exclusive club (though TR overcome that). And it may be just a bit too quirky and “highbrow” to bridge demographics like those ultra-elite commercial cyclones have. If I were betting I’d put money on it being “merely” a very big hit (think Boku no Hero Academia or Haikyuu!!) as opposed to otherworldly. But it wouldn’t shock me to see it storm the barricades and stand alongside Tokyo Revengers at least, though JJK seems like a bit too much of an ask.
Ao Ashi – Production I.G.: (PV) It’s been way too long since we’ve had a really good soccer anime (Ginga e Kickoff, I guess). Plenty of mediocre or even decent ones, mind, but given how many terrific soccer manga are out there, anime hasn’t been kind to the genre in recent years. Hopefully that will change with Ao Ashi, a very good manga indeed if not a masterpiece. This is certainly my top pick among this seasons dollop of sports series.
In my mind’s eye there’s kind of a big three of “blue” soccer manga along a continuum from most traditional to most “modern”. Be Blues is at the traditional end and Blue Lock (also getting a 2022 adaptation) at the other, with Ao Ashi in the middle. For my tastes it’s also in the middle in terms of quality – I really love Be Blues (it’s basically the Majorof soccer), but Ao Ashi is a very winning series (nominated for the Manga Taisho in 2017 and winner of the Shogokukan “General Manga” award in 2020) with a likable titular protagonist. He’s a middle schooler from the inaka with big dreams, which are seemingly dashed after he causes the downfall of his team in a big tournament. But if that were the case, we wouldn’t have a story…
Production I.G. being the studio doesn’t seem to hold as much weight as it once did, but you’d certainly take it over most options. There’s not a big-name director or heavyweight staff attached to Ao Ashi but I.G. sort of gives you a baseline beneath which you know you won’t drop. As for series length that’s still unknown, but this is airing on NHK and they almost never do one-cour productions, much less of sports manga. I’d guess two cours for now, and then we’ll see – the manga is very popular if not on the level of something like Haikyuu.
Kingdom 4th Season – Studio Signpost: (PV) At this point I think you pretty much know what you’re going to get with Kingdom, and what you’re going to get is very good indeed. The production nightmares seem behind us (Signpost is an offshoot of Pierrot, but things haven’t been distractingly horrible for a good while anyway). Of course some arcs are going to be better than others with a manga this long, but in the anime at least the writing has always maintained a pretty high standard. Hara Yasuhisa has been at this for over 15 years now, and Kingdom has become one of the most popular manga in the world for a reason.
For my tastes Season 3 was probably the best of the series so far. There are individual sections in the first two that match it (though dismal visuals were a looming danger), but S3 was pretty consistently epic from start to finish. It obviously adapted a very major arc, so the story by nature has to chart a new direction from here. I haven’t read enough of the source material to know what’s coming but I trust Hara at this stage – I expect this season to deliver an appealing mix of grand spectacle and personal drama just as the series always seems to.
Summertime Render – OLM: (PV) There are plenty of reasons to be intrigued by Summertime Render – interesting premise, wonderful PV, two cours for a finished manga. But the headline is certainly Watanabe Ayumu. Anytime one of the deans of anime direction both TV and theatrical is attached, you pay attention. There are limits to what a director can do with adapted material – Watanabe’s flair wasn’t enough to mask Komi Can’t Communicate’s ginormous flaws, for example. But he’s one of the best, and when he’s at the helm of a quirky property like this, it’s of considerable interest to me.
Summertime Render is the story of a young man who as an orphaned child lived with two sisters, one of whom drowned under mysterious (to him) circumstances. There are apparently some supernatural elements to this but it seems to be mainly a mystery and character drama. The source manga is quite well-regarded if not unreservedly beloved, for what that’s worth. 13 volumes for 25 episodes sounds about doable, and my hope is that Watanabe agreed to direct because he finds the material to be sufficiently interesting. Largely an unknown for me, but certainly one of the more compelling prospects this season.
Kotarou wa Hitorigurashi – Lidenfilms: (PV) Netflix anime present unique challenges to blogging, and Kotarou is a prime example. At least it was distributed worldwide rather than making subscribers outside Japan wait a season, as they sometimes do, but how to cover (or even preview) it is a puzzle. By now many will have seen all of it – I’ve seen some (and can confirm, it’s great). I don’t even know whether to call it a winter or spring series. But I do know it’s superb anime, and in the hope that this might convince a few people to check it out, I’m including it in the spring preview.
Kotarou is a manga with quite an interesting history. The manga itself is an award winner, and the live-action adaptation has been one of the most well-received TV dramas in recent years. It’s little-known outside Japan but quite a prestige property here. Manga and anime’s fascination with children living alone seems to reach the point of absurdity here, where the child in question is 4 years old. I’m withholding judgment on that premise (update: it’s great) until I see how it’s rationalized, but there is obvious potential for emotional resonance in the story. Director Makino Tomoe did good work on Kitsutsuki Tanteidokoro (though he’s actually directing two series this season, which can be worrisome). An odd duck, certainly, but Kotarou wa Hitorigurashi has a lot to recommend it, not least that it’s a seinen and that always improves the odds of a series being good.
Kawaii Dake ja Nai Shikimori-san – Doga Kobo: (PV) I always go into romcoms with high hopes – it’s one of my absolute favorite genres. Most of them aren’t that great and very few are really special, but when you get that rare exception the ceiling is basically unlimited. I have no reason to expect Kawaii Dake ja Nai Shikimori-san is going to be one of these rare gems, but the overall view of the manga is positive and I tend to like Doga Kobo’s sensibility.
That title translates to “Shikimori Isn’t Just a Cutie” and that seems to sum up the premise pretty accurately. Stories about herbivore boyfriends with aggressive girlfriends are minefields to be sure, but I don’t get the vibe that this one is especially mean-spirited. In addition to a studio Shikimori-san shares a director and writer with Senpai ga Uzai Kouhai no Hanashi, and I think it’s fair to say that’s about where my expectation level is – a breezy, fun weekly escape with people that are weird but easy to like. If I enjoy this show as much as I did that one, I’ll consider this adaptation a success.
Tiger & Bunny 2 – Bandai Namco Pictures: (PV) Another Netflix production. Tiger & Bunny 2 is one of the very few sequels I’ll be checking in on this spring. It seems as if this has come about 7 years too late – at its peak this series was massively popular (especially on Friday at Comiket) but does anyone really still care? As for myself my expectations are relatively modest – I liked the first season but the last third rather lost the plot as far as I’m concerned.
Still – any chance to hear the great Hirata Hiroaki in a lead role is to be savored these days, and Kotetsu is a great character. Original writer Nishida Masafumi is back on board, and despite the lackluster final arc there’s certainly nothing in the premise that precludes a sequel (quite the opposite, in fact). Apropos of nothing, it always depresses me to see “Bandai Namco Pictures” on the masthead – they’ll always be Sunrise to me, even if corporate weasels decide to kill the name.
Dance Dance Danseur – MAPPA: (PV) As far as I know this is the first anime about male ballet dancers, and it’s based on a series by the legendary shoujo mangaka Asakura George. The story here follows a teenager who was into ballet as a kid but gave it up due to peer pressure, and pursued martial arts. A female classmate in high school pulls him back into the world of ballet, and romance (I assume) follows.
I know nothing about Asakura’s manga, really, but I do know she has a reputation as a quirky and even weird writer who sometimes dabbles in fantasy. Sakai Munehisa is certainly an interesting choice as director, since his best-known work has been on One Piece. This one is distinctive enough to capture my interest, though I’m not going to be shocked if the anime turns out to be kind of a dumpster fire.
Tomodachi Game – Okuruto Noboru:As usual this is the biggest section of the preview (half). And the shows in this category are all pretty much of a muchness for me – I could list them in any order without stretching much. Tomodachi Game probably has the most buzz and the most well-regarded source material, but the premise sounds kind of dumb if I’m honest. It finds a bunch of high schoolers thrown together by a malicious children’t TV character and forced to play the titular “friendship game” to test their bonds of trust. Hey, there must be some reason so many people rate the manga highly, right? That buys it an episode or two to convince me.
Love All Play – Nippon Animation/OLM: (PV) The rest of spring’s sports anime are a big step below Ao Ashi for me, but hope springs (pun intended) eternal. This marks the second season in a row with a badminton show after a run of- well, forever as far as I know without one. It’s all preamble to Blue Box for me, but that’s 18-24 months off yet. This one sounds like a pretty standard setup – kid goes to a strong badminton school and tries to make the cut in the demanding environment with the help of his onee-chan and friends. Original sports anime are rarely really special (this season’s badminton show Ryman’s Club probably represents a high-water mark).
Birdie Wing: Golf Girls’ Story – Bandai Namco Pictures: (PV) Another sports original, so much of the above applies here as well. The novelty here is that we haven’t see a golf anime in decades. The sports is phenomenally popular in Japan, but not with the usual anime-viewing (and buying) demographic. If we’re honest most sports series about female athletes struggle to rise above the “cute girls doing sports cutely” level, but the two heroines seem to be adults at least. The PVs make it seem as if the silly factor is pretty high with Birdie Wing, but the staff is very experienced and kind of okay, so who knows.
Gunjou no Fanfare – Ley-duce: (PV) Last of the trio, this time we have a sports original about – jockeys? Okay, that’s a first as far as I know – we’re getting more diversity of sports, if nothing else. Three 15 year-old boys at a “prestigious horse racing academy” is the premise here, to which I say “why the hell not?” Let it be known that the ridiculously overexposed Hanae Natsuki is playing the lead both here and in Love All Play (and Summertime Render for that matter), so expect a hearty dose of sameyness.
Aharen-san wa Hakarenai – Felix Film: (PV) A comedy with an odd premise that normally wouldn’t interest me all that much to be honest – a tiny girl with personal space issues and a large guy with an overactive imagination become friends of a sort. But the staff is good – co-directors Makino (from Kotarou wa Hitorigurashi) and Yamamoto Yasutaka both have a pretty decent track record. And as best I can tell the manga is pretty well-reviewed.
Kakkou no Iinazuke – SynergySP/Shin-EI: (PV) Another romcom, an adaptation of a shounen manga that’s been running for less than two years. The plot is seriously improbable – a kid switched at birth is sucked into a scheme by his birth parents to marry the girl they raised. There’s no real reason to think this will be a high-level performer but, well- it’s a romcom, it’s not a LN adaptation, and Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san director Akagi Hiroaki is in charge. There’s enough there to at least make it worth a stab in the dark.
Deaimon – Encourage Films: (PV) Deaimon has an uneasy whiff of “cute girl doing cute things” to it, but I’m always interested in series set in Kyoto. This one finds a young adult returning home from Tokyo expecting to take over the family traditional sweets shop, only to find that a young girl has been chosen as successor in his absence. Pretty experienced staff. This is a shot in the dark for sure, but I will give it that shot based on the setting if nothing else.
Kunoichi Tsubaki no Mune no Uchi – CloverWorks: (PV) I don’t how a mangaka has three serialized works going at the same time. Or even if they should. But all three of Yamamoto Souichirou’s will have gotten adaptations as of this summer. I haven’t read any of this one, a comedy about a young ninja girl forbidden from contact with males who becomes obsessed with them when she hits her teens. It would probably be fair to say it’s the least popular of Yamamoto’s series, though that in itself isn’t necessarily telling.
Will Definitely Blog: Spy X Family, Ao Ashi, Kingdom 4th Season, Kotarou wa Hitorigurashi, Tiger & Bunny 2.
Sleepers: Kawaii Dake ja Nai Shikimori-san (if it’s obscure enough to be a sleeper), maybe Aharen-san wa Hakarenai?
Bubble – 4/28/22: (PV) Post-apocalyptic sci-fi from Wit directed by Araki Tetsurou and written by Urobuchi Gen? There’s a curiosity factor here at the very least. I have no idea if Bubble will be any good, but it’s nice to see a single episode OVA/ONA that actually does something original rather than another “special episode” of a TV anime. This is what OVAs used to be, for the most part.
Summer is often the big season for anime movies, and spring a slow one – the opposite of TV anime.
Odd Taxi Movie: In the Woods – 04/01/22: (PV) Odd Taxi was the surprise hit of 2021 for good reason – it was a fine show, if not quite the match of its hype factor. The most exceptional thing about the series for me was its marketing campaign, which was stunningly brilliant from the beginning, and to my thinking accounts for a good chunk of its success. I expected that to result in a second season (though the central conceit would have been hard to explain away in a direct sequel) but it’s chosen the theatrical route instead. We don’t know how much of “In the Woods” will be actual new material, as part of the movie is a “reconstruction” of the TV series.
Re:cycle of the Penguindrum – 04/29/22: (PV) Ikuhara Kunhiko’s Mawaru Penguindrum was a microcosm of the man’s entire oeuvre – vexing. undisciplined, visually stunning, and sometimes heartbreaking. This movie was funded by crowdfunding (which I hate, as a rule), part of a campaign to mark the series’ 10th anniversary. As if often the case with theatrical extensions of TV anime these days, the production committee is starting with a recap film before releasing the new material later – a clever if cynical way to maximize profits.
I ranked MPD in my 2011 Top 10 despite its myriad flaws (some of which were pretty grievous), because it was one of the most intellectually ambitious and visually creative anime series pretty much ever. I don’t know that it needed a sequel, but any project Ikuhara is involved in commands one’s full attention (though obviously the main event here is not this movie, but the one which will follow it).
Inu-Ou – 05/28/22: (PV) Inu-Ou may or may not represent Yuasa Masaaki’s farewell to Science SARU, the studio he founded. We know he left his post as President and is no longer an employee, but he may choose to work with them again. In any event this is the second of SARU’s Heike Monogatari-related projects, and after the massive disappointment of The Heike Story, the one for which I still hold out some hope.
In addition to having the master himself directing, Inu-Ou seems likely to benefit from a smarter approach to the material. Rather than attempting to “adapt” the original in a grossly insufficient block of episodes with a bunch of mediocre original material shoehorned in, Inu-Ou is a truly original work inspired by the Heike. Presumably Yuasa wrote it to fit its length, a single theatrical film. It’s the tale of a grossly deformed boy and his partnership with a blind biwa player aa they travel Japan recounting tales (of the Heike, presumably). The trailers have been stunning.