Spring 2014 Anime Preview: Now With More Robots

As meager rays of sunshine struggle to warm lands blasted by endless winter, the spring anime season has come upon us, sporting a full complement of new shows to warm our frozen hearts. From the youthful mecha adventures of Captain Earth to fantasy light novel adaptations, and from the unique creative vision of Ping Pong to other fantasy light novel adaptions, spring is bursting with brand new anime—plus the return of some well-loved favorites. With simulcasts a click away, there’s no reason to wait. Here are five of the best new shows of spring that are available to watch right away.

Captain Earth

As a child, Daichi Manatsu (Miyu Irino) spent a summer on the island of Tanegashima playing with a strange boy named Teppei Arashi (Hiroshi Kamiya), who showed him a mysterious phenomenon: a circular rainbow floating in the palm of his hand. Years later, Daichi sees a news report about a similar rainbow floating in the sky above the space facilities on Tanegashima. Daichi sets off for the island, determined to return to the place where he last met Teppei. When he arrives, however, he is confronted by an odd young girl, who reveals that alien attackers are about to invade Earth—and that Daichi has the ability to intercept them, using a robot called the Earth Engine. Being an exemplary teenage mecha protagonist, Daichi gets in the robot and saves the Earth.

Animation studio Bones (Star Driver, Eureka Seven) is back with another original mecha anime, and it’s off to a promising start. Brought to you by the writer and director of Star Driver, Captain Earth is everything one would expect from that team: southern islands, mysterious robots, secret organizations, and long transformation sequences. Captain Earth is carefully paced, taking its time to ease the audience into its story and dropping hints at the larger picture while focusing on assembling the main cast. Right now Captain Earth is pure potential—but promises of complex politics and larger mysteries, as well the crisp art and dazzling visuals that Bones is so adept at delivering, are enough to make Captain Earth worth any mecha fan’s time.

For fans of: Star Driver, Eureka Seven, RahXephon, Xam’d, 2 minutes of robot assembly IN SPACE

Watch it on Crunchyroll

 

Ping Pong The Animation

High school first years Makoto “Smile” Tsukimoto (Kouki Uchiyama) and Yutaka “Peco” Hoshino (newcomer Fukujurou Katayama) have been playing ping pong together since childhood. The quiet and reserved Smile is happy to take a back seat to his boisterous friend, playing apathetically and letting Peco garner victories and attention from their high-school teammates and rivals. But Smile can’t keep his skills hidden forever—as his team coach and other strong players begin to notice Smile’s talent, chances are good that he will be forced to come out of his shell and find out what it really means to play to win.

Based on a manga by Taiyo Matsumoto (Tekkonkinkreet) and directed by Masaaki Yuasa (The Tatami Galaxy, Kaiba) for the noitaminA time slot, Ping Pong is not your typical sports show. Yuasa is known for his wacky, art-house aesthetic, and those quirks definitely show up in Ping Pong: the show has a unique visual style and some (if we are to be perfectly frank) rather ugly character designs that are sure to put some viewers off immediately. Those who skip it, however, are going to miss out on what is already shaping up to be a fascinating story full of weird characters and surreal visuals. Matsumoto and Yuasa seem to be a perfect match here, and at eleven episodes, you’ve got nothing to lose. The obvious artsy hipster pick of the season.

For fans of: Tekkonkinkreet, The Tatami Galaxy, feeling superior to your friends

Watch it on Hulu or Funimation

 

Knights of Sidonia / Sidonia no Kishi

Knights of Sidonia

One thousand years ago, our solar system was destroyed by an alien race called the Gauna. The remains of humanity escaped in seed ships such as Sidonia, pursued by their alien enemies and protected by pilots of humanoid mecha called Guardians. Our story follows Nagate Tanikaze (Ryota Ohsaka), the young pilot of one such Guardian.

First, the very good: Knights of Sidonia is a gritty space opera based on a highly-regarded manga by Tsutomu Nihei (Blame), in which young men and women fight horrifying shape-shifting aliens. It depicts a fascinating future where humans have achieved photosynthesis, developed a third gender, and apparently made some people look like bears (you’ll see). Nagate is an unwitting pawn in politics that, based on the hints we’ve gotten so far, run deep in Sidonia’s society. Also, the background art is lovely.

Now on to the extremely unfortunate: Knights of Sidonia is being produced by Polygon Pictures in full 3DCG. This is all very well and good for the mechanical animation; the Guardians look swell. But the character animation is a travesty: the human characters are stiff and unnatural; they glide from pose to pose like mannequins, with about as much expressiveness. The content here is enough for any science fiction fan to take a look at Knights of Sidonia, but with the dodgy CG animation and a limited 12 episode run, caveats abound.

For fans of: Attack on Titan, Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet, Uchuu Senkan Yamato 2199,  space monsters

Watch it on Netflix…this summer. I’ve jumped the gun here a bit.

 

Haikyu!!

Shoyo Hinata (Ayumu Murase) has dreamed of playing volleyball at Karasuno High School ever since seeing them play in a tournament as a child. Despite being the only official member of his middle school volleyball club, Shoyo managed to scrape together a small team in time for the middle school tournament—but was bitterly defeated in the first round by a team led by Tobio Kageyama (Kaito Ishikawa), known as the King of the Court. Shoyo vows to take revenge against Kageyama in high school, but when he arrives at the Karasuno volleyball club, he finds that his first new teammate is none other than the King himself.

Haikyu!! hits the ground running from episode one, fielding likely the most visually impressive first episode of the season. Unlike Ping Pong (and yes, there are two sports anime in this list; these are the times we live in), this is a fairly straight Shonen Jump sports plot—here, it is the execution that elevates it above standard sports anime fare. Featuring an extremely likable cast—Shoyo is a spunky and tireless lead, and even the prickly Kageyama has room to grow—Haikyu!! is dynamically animated, smartly directed, and above all incredibly fun to watch. Look no further for teamwork, rivalry, and friendship…knowledge of volleyball not required.

For fans of: Yowamushi Pedal, Ookiku Furikabutte/Big Windup!, sakuga

Watch it on Crunchyroll

 

Mushishi Zoku Shou

Neither plants nor animals, spirits nor gods, the beings known as mushi inhabit our world and affect it in sometimes beautiful, sometimes frightening ways. Visible to only a few, those who know of the mushi fear the strange creatures. Our protagonist Ginko is a mushishi, a man who travels the land in order to study the mushi and help people who have confronted the supernatural phenomena they create.

Okay, this is not a new show—but it has been eight whole years since the first season of Mushishi aired, and after waiting the better part of a decade, it would be positively criminal of me not to sneak it in. Thoughtful, melancholy, and strangely timeless, Mushishi is quite simply one of the most beautiful and singular shows out there. Mushishi Zoku Shou, helmed by the same staff and cast as the original, is just as lovely as it was eight years ago. If you’ve not seen the first season, you can pick up at the beginning of this one: the show is episodic in format, with each episode containing a complete narrative that can range from wistful to tragic. Wherever you start, you’re not likely to regret it. Mushishi is back, and it’s as good as ever.

For fans of: Natsume Yuujinchou, Kino’s Journey, Mononoke, good anime

Watch on Crunchyroll, and watch the first season on Hulu or Funimation

 

What spring shows are you watching? Let us know in the comments!


Kelly Quinn is an assistant editor at Tor Books. She can also be found on Twitter.

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