The summer season of anime is at our doorstep. In the deluge of new shows, it can be difficult for the untrained eye to separate the worthwhile from the worthless. Thankfully, you have me to do it for you. I’ve taken the liberty of picking out a few especially choice titles to make a summer sampler; hopefully, you’ll find something appealing within.
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Astra: Lost in Space
Despite the title, Astra bears no connection to either the TV show from the 60’s or the recent Netflix remake — other than the literal premise of being lost in space, of course — and is instead an adaptation of an award-winning manga. Works based on popular, critically acclaimed source material are always worth looking at, and Astra is no exception.
A group of teenagers on a school trip to nearby planet find themselves warped into space thousands of light years away by an orb of light. While they’re lucky enough to be near an abandoned spaceship, they still need to figure out how to make the months-long trip back home without running out of food or water. The attempts to portray the terror and isolation of being stranded in deep space would probably land a lot harder if the characters and humor weren’t quite so silly and typically anime, and the science is soft as can be — but if you’re looking for a fun sci-fi romp with occasional bursts of survivalist dread, Astra might be right up your alley.
Shonen Jump manga can be grouped into roughly two categories: those that feature a lot of fighting and have a chance of hitting the zeitgeist (One Piece, Naruto, or more recently My Hero Academia), and those that… don’t. Personally, I find the latter category a lot more interesting, as it’s where more unusual premises and settings usually land — stuff like Death Note and The Promised Neverland, for instance. Dr. STONE is definitely one of these series. It starts with the entire human race being turned to stone by a mysterious light, only beginning to awaken after thousands of years have passed. The first to recover — genius Senku and his meathead friend Taiju — begin the slow process of rebuilding civilization from the ground up, with the aid of SCIENCE!
That’s the main thing you need to know about Dr. STONE: it is very, very excited about science, maybe even at its own expense. The characters are unremarkable and the pacing is breakneck, though that might be appropriate for a manga about trying to speed through millennia of human advancement. But if the idea of anime teens waxing poetical about calcium carbonate appeals, you’ll probably find Dr. STONE very appealing indeed.
Focusing on pyrokinetic firefighters in their fight against creatures called Infernals, Fire Force is about as shonen as it gets. I found the story and characters engaging enough, but largely unremarkable. What is remarkable, though, is how absolutely gorgeous it is. The manga already has a very distinct look, particularly in its setting and its depictions of fire, and it looks absolutely stunning in motion. The production is full of talent, made up mostly of former members of Studio SHAFT — creators of shows like Puella Magi Madoka Magi and the Monogatari series, and one of the few anime studios with a distinct aesthetic. Perhaps more importantly, they had a much less rushed production schedule than anime tends to receive, meaning the quality has a good chance of remaining consistent. If you want spectacle, Fire Force has got you covered, and then some.
As an anime original series without source material to reference, Granbelm is kind of a crapshoot. Based off what we do know, though? I’m feeling optimistic. The premise could be summed up as “magical girl mecha,” though it’s definitely leaning closer to the “magical girl” side of the equation. This allows for mecha that are operated by strings from the pilots fingers, with designs that are cute and expressive rather than practical as robots.
Whether or not this appeals is a question of personal taste — it’s certainly no Gundam. But if you’re not totally turned off by the softness of the aesthetic, you might be in for a real treat. Series composition was handled by Kyoto Animation veteran Jukki Hanada, whose history of female-lead shows inspires confidence. Director Masaharu Watanabe, meanwhile, is an animation legend best known for his work on Re: Zero. Granbelm might not be for everyone, but personally, I’m excited.
O Maidens in Your Savage Season
An adaptation of a manga by Mari Okada, O Maidens is about the girls of a high school literature club coming to terms with the existence of sex. Okada is perhaps the best-known writer in the anime industry, with a reputation for melodrama — and I mean that in the best way possible. Here, she treats budding female sexuality in a frank, unsalacious way that is depressingly rare in the medium. As such, O Maidens is a breath of fresh air, funny and awkward and real. With an adaptation that captures both the elegant softness of the manga’s aesthetic and the clumsy adolescent flailing of the characters, O Maidens is a promising dramedy indeed.
The best point of comparison for Vinland Saga is without a doubt Berserk — a hugely popular low fantasy manga-turned-anime about trying to remain human amidst violent turmoil. Vinland Saga could be called its realist Nordic cousin. Based off a critically acclaimed manga about Vikings, it focuses on a young man named Thorfinn who was raised as a raider by the group of marauders who killed his parents. Despite its focus on the horrors of war it’s a remarkably human story about trying to find warmth and peace in a time where bloodshed is held supreme. Director Shuhei Yabuta’s experience working on Attack on Titan should serve him well here. Vinland Saga has my hearty recommendation, as long as you can stomach a few split heads.
Do You Love Your Mom and Her Two-Hit Multi-Target Attacks?
As you probably guessed from the title, this is an adaptation of a light novel. And since every light novel that gets an anime these days is the same genre, it’s an isekai. It’s about a gamer who gets transported into a MMORPG… with his mom? And she’s more powerful than him!?
In all seriousness, the source material and production for this are both completely unremarkable, I just thought everyone deserved to know about the promotional campaign they ran where you could get an exclusive booklet if you bought a copy of the light novel with your mom. Also, they’d accept anyone you claimed to be your mom, even men or body pillows. This so-called “momcom” might not be good, or even worth watching, but it’s certainly noteworthy.
There are more shows that might be interesting, of course; Given looks to be a serious adolescent drama, How Many Kilos Can You Lift? is as dumb as it is funny, and To The Abandoned Sacred Beasts is classic dark fantasy. And if nothing appeals, well, there’s always next season!