As summer reaches its sweltering peak, what better reason to stay indoors with the A/C on than a new season of foreign cartoons? With a packed schedule of both new and returning shows, the summer season is looking rather suspiciously good. Fans will be pleased at the return of Space Dandy to both Japanese and American televisions, as well as new seasons of Sword Art Online (with guns!), Free! (with mermaids!), Kuroshitsuji (with circuses!) ...and perhaps not so pleased with the return of Sengoku Basara (with uglier character designs!). For the binge-watchers, sci-fi series Knights of Sidonia is now available in full on Netflix. And as if that weren’t enough, there’s a whole roster of new shows, ranging from the rose-strewn Sailor Moon reboot to the moody and mysterious Terror in Resonance. With simulcasts mere moments away, there’s no reason to wait. Here are six of the best new summer shows that are available to watch right now.
Sailor Moon Crystal
Usagi is just an average 14 year old girl who’s a little clumsy and a bit of crybaby...yeah, you know this one. Sailor Moon Crystal is a 26 episode series that is meant to follow the story of Naoko Takeuchi’s beloved manga more closely than the beloved 90s TV series did. Crystal is clearly striking a conscious balance between old and new: The new character designs draw heavily from the original manga while attempting to create a more modern look. The casting brings back Usagi’s original voice actress, Kotono Mitsuishi, while replacing the rest of the sailor senshi. The transformation sequence embodies this most of all—though the sequence is (somewhat controversially) animated in full CG, the visuals remain very close to the original 90s rendition.
So does Crystal stand a chance of living up to the nostalgia-laden expectations of Sailor Moon fans? Overall, I would say yes. The premiere hits all the major milestones—meet cat, transform, glimpse Tuxedo Mask, beat up bad guys—without a hitch. The animation, if not superlative, is certainly adequate, and though the new look takes some getting used to, the overall result is very pretty: the long-limbed, detailed character designs do add a delicate girliness, and the silhouetted eye-catches and title cards are especially lovely. The poised prettiness, however, comes at the price of slightly more static characters that at times feel a tad plastic. More than once I found myself missing the more cartoony style of the 90s series (not to mention the amazing 90s fashion, but we can’t have everything). That said, Crystal is just getting started, and with a few more episodes (and the entrance of the rest of the senshi), the show may well settle comfortably into its shiny new style.
Terror in Resonance / Zankyou no Terror
Two mysterious teenagers known as Nine (Kaito Ishikawa) and Twelve (Soma Saito) reveal themselves to be abnormally adept with explosives, carrying out a devastating terrorist attack on a major government building in downtown Tokyo. High school student Lisa Mishima (Atsumi Tanezaki) is unwittingly caught up in the violent plans of the two boys, who call themselves “Sphinx.”
Director Shinichiro Watanabe (Cowboy Bebop, Kids on the Slope) returns to the noitaminA time slot with a tense terrorism thriller. Terror in Resonance opens with a tightly paced first episode that introduces the main cast—the stoic Nine, the eerily cheerful Twelve, and the despondent and mysterious Lisa—and wastes no time demolishing the Tokyo skyline. A haunting soundtrack by the legendary Yoko Kanno (Cowboy Bebop, Ghost in the Shell: SAC) adds considerably to the mood, and the art and animation from studio MAPPA (Kids on the Slope) is sharp and polished throughout this impressive premiere. Terror in Resonance is certainly playing its cards close to the vest: not much is revealed about what’s going on in the background, although Nine and Twelve’s dark past is sufficiently hinted at that it’s sure to become a factor later on. If this original show can keep up the tension and momentum it’s established in the first episode, it’s likely to be a winner this season.
After responding to a famous calligrapher’s criticism of his work by clocking the old man in the jaw, young calligrapher Seishuu Handa (Daisuke Ono) is packed off to a small rural island in disgrace. The city-bred artist is immediately out of his element amongst his inexplicable new neighbors (who all have atrocious country accents and don’t lock their doors), and is especially tormented by a child named Naru (Suzuko Hara), the acknowledged village scamp.
Barakamon is an exceedingly charming slice of life comedy that makes its considerable appeal apparent from the very first episode. Striking an easy balance between comedy driven by a city boy’s fish-out-of-water antics and a sincere exploration of Handa’s struggles to develop as an artist, the show manages to be heartfelt without being pretentious or saccharine. The unlikely friendship between Handa and Naru is a great source of fun here, and child actress Suzuko Hara brings a natural artlessness to Naru that is a perfect counterpoint to veteran voice actor Ono’s performance as Handa. Add fluid, organic animation from Kinema Citrus (Black Bullet, Yuyushiki), and Barakamon easily stands among the best shows premiering this season.
Aldnoah.Zero takes place in an alternate history where humans have colonized Mars. Years after a lengthy war between Earth and Mars, an uneasy truce keeps the planets at peace—until a terrorist attack on the Martian princess during a diplomatic mission to Earth sparks the war anew. The show focuses on Slaine Troyard (Kensho Ono), an Earthling in the Martian military, Inaho Kaizuka (Natsuki Hanae), a high school student on Earth, and the princess Asseylum (Sora Amamiya).
Reuniting the director and writer of Fate/Zero (though Urobuchi’s only responsible for concept here, not scripts), Aldnoah.Zero is a slickly-produced original mecha series. Debuting with a fairly standard mecha premise (empires, robots, humanity at war), Aldnoah.Zero distinguishes itself with a solid premiere that, though perhaps a little exposition-heavy at times, does good work setting the stage, both in terms of world-building and character introductions. Character designs by Takako Shimura (Wandering Son) are a special treat here, and the large-scale plot and action is bolstered by an equally large-scale score from Hiroyuki Sawano (Attack on Titan, Kill la Kill). There’s a lot of potential present, though neither our protagonists nor our robots have seen much action yet. I suspect that Aldnoah.Zero will sink or swim based on how the relationships between the main three develop as the show progresses.
Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun / Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun
When Chiyo Sakura (Ari Ozawa) finally works up the courage to confess her love to her high school crush, Nozaki-kun (Yuichi Nakamura) mistakes her for a fan of his work. Yes, Nozaki has been living a not-so-secret double life: average high school boy by day, famous shoujo manga artist by night. Nozaki quickly recruits Chiyo as an assistant; meanwhile, poor Chiyo struggles to get her feelings across to her exceedingly dense crush.
Based on a 4-koma manga serialized in Gangan Online (the same online magazine as Barakamon), Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun is an ensemble comedy that affectionately parodies shoujo manga tropes. The deadpan Nozaki is obviously at the heart of things, but it is the tenacious and lovable Chiyo who drives much of the comedy, which, true to its 4-koma roots, is light and fluffy, jumping spryly from gag to gag. The rest of the cast is equally wacky and entertaining, and the show is taking a leisurely course in introducing more characters to the mix. An added bonus here is production by animation studio Dogakobo, which brings a little extra oomph to the character animation of this uncommonly fun show. For maximum shoujo sparkles, watch alongside Blue Spring Ride this season.
For fans of: Daily Lives of High School Boys, Bokura wa Minna Kawaisou/The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behavior, Love Lab, tandem bicycles
Watch it on: Crunchyroll
Ken Kaneki (Natsuki Hanae) is a college student in Tokyo, a city haunted by grotesque monsters known as “ghouls”—creatures that appear to be human, but must consume raw human flesh to survive. After a fateful encounter with a girl named Rize (Kana Hanazawa), Kaneki becomes a half-ghoul and finds himself forced to abandon his humanity in order to stalk the streets of Tokyo for his next meal.
Based on a manga by Sui Ishida, Tokyo Ghoul is a horror fantasy show that executes its fairly well-trod premise extremely well. Director Shuhei Morita (Oscar-nominated for his short film Possessions) excels at creating the noirish, creepy atmosphere that the material demands, and animation studio Pierrot (somewhat surprisingly) delivers some top-shelf animation here. Kaneki is a sympathetic protagonist, if not especially interesting at this point, and Hanae gives a visceral performance as a young man struggling with his new inhumanity. Gripping and suspenseful, punctuated by action scenes full of splashy gore (mostly censored for the TV broadcast), Tokyo Ghoul is certainly worth a look for those itching for a dark, character-driven fantasy.
For fans of: Shiki, Future Diary/Mirai Nikki, Psycho-Pass, coffee
Watch it on Hulu
Watching anything good this season? Let us know in the comments!