Every three months, Japan graces us with a new batch of shiny new cartoons. But with more than forty shows airing this season, who has the time to watch them all? Decisions must be made. We’ve hit the three-episode mark of most shows this week, and it’s time to separate the winners from the losers. With offerings this season ranging from slick reboots of old classics to sentient battling jewel people, here are four shows that you can jump into right now, personally vetted by yours truly.
The Ancient Magus’ Bride
The Ancient Magus’ Bride is the show I’m personally most excited about this season, having been a fan of Kore Yamazaki’s lovely manga for a long time. In this Western-style fantasy, Chise (Atsumi Tanezaki), a young woman of exceptional but untapped power, is bought (as in purchased with money) by a powerful magus (Ryouta Takeuchi), who intends to make the girl his apprentice.
Yamazaki’s Celtic-inspired world is rich in wondrous and dangerous magic—this is the type of fantasy where the fairies drag you off for untold years if you step in the wrong stone circle, not the type where they flit about sprinkling pixie dust. Wit Studio (Attack on Titan, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress) and director Norihiro Naganuma (making his debut as a TV anime director here) are thus far doing a gorgeous job with the adaptation, and the care put into production is obvious from the first notes of the perfectly chosen opening song. Slow, deep, fantasy for fans of Icelandic dragons and ancient curses.
For fans of: Flying Witch, xxxHOLiC, Natsume Yuujinchou
Watch now on Crunchyroll.
Land of the Lustrous
Adapted from a manga by Haruko Ichikawa, this fantasy battle show is set in a world in which crystalline inhabitants must constantly guard against raids from their planet’s six moons. If caught, the gem people will be shattered by the Lunarians, their pieces used as glittering ornaments on the distant moons.
The main draw of Land of the Lustrous, at least for me, is mangaka Ichikawa’s distinctive aesthetic: long-limbed, androgynous characters clash in highly stylized combat across an austere landscape of cliff and sea. The announcement that the show would be produced by Orange, a 3DCG studio known for their work on mecha shows, had me skeptical—but after three episodes, this might be the first fully CG show I actually finish. The character animation, usually CG’s Achilles’ heel, is expressive, particularly on the volatile Phosphophyllite, and the gem-like qualities of the Lustrous are rendered quite effectively in CG. Is it perfect? No, and I still worry that the CG adds an additional layer of distance in a show that already struggles to create emotional engagement with its alien characters. But it’s definitely worth a look. A fantasy battle show set a in a jewel box world for those who enjoy unique worldbuilding and surreal visuals.
For fans of: Sailor Moon, Casshern Sins
Watch it now on Anime Strike (sorry).
Kino’s Journey -The Beautiful World- the Animated Series
Kino, a traveller, and her talking motorcycle Hermes (yes he talks, don’t question it; no one in the series does) journey through a series of countries with strange customs and habits—a country on wheels constantly on the move, a country where murder is legal, etc. Each country Kino visits presents some kind of philosophical allegory or thought experiment, with Kino playing the role of observer, or less often, catalyst.
This new adaptation of Keiichi Sigsawa’s light novel series is a complete remake, covering some chapters adapted in the original 2003 show (a whopping fourteen years ago now) and others that are completely new. The 2003 series is a classic, but to be honest, the visuals haven’t held up especially well over the years. The new adaptation has the same quiet, meditative tone I remember, and it seems to me that even voice actors Aoi Yuuki (Kino) and Soma Saito (Hermes) are hewing very close to the 2003 cast in their performances. If you’ve not experienced Kino’s Journey, the show is well worth your time. The narrative follows patterns of parable more than realism, but the morals are anything but pat, and the show is content to let viewers feel discomfort with the stories presented. A thoughtful anime well worth a watch for both old fans and new viewers.
For fans of: Mushishi, Haibane Renmei, Sound of the Sky, Spice & Wolf
Watch it now on Crunchyroll.
Juni Taisen: ZODIAC WAR
In absolute contrast to the thoughtful and contemplative Kino’s Journey, consider this show about animal-themed mercenaries killing each other in an elaborate death game. Based on a light novel by NisiOisin (of Bakemonogatari fame), Juni Taisen pits twelve warriors, each taking the name of a sign in the Chinese zodiac, against each other in a deadly tournament that will grant the winner one wish—basically Fate/Zero, but with people dressed as chickens and snakes instead of legendary heroes.
Unapologetically pulpy and gleefully grim, Juni Taisen takes itself seriously enough to create suspense while being entirely unselfconscious about presenting the Ox character in a matador outfit or Rabbit in, well, whatever this is. Although it cultivates a veneer of edgy darkness, it doesn’t really make an earnest attempt to get you to sympathize with the characters, and that seems like the right move—they’re all terrible people, and the lurid fun is watching them betray and outsmart each other in a violence-fueled spectacle for twelve episodes. Excellent turn-your-brain-off entertainment with refreshingly little attempt at depth.
For fans of: Fate/Zero, Mirai Nikki, Death Parade
Watch it now on Crunchyroll.
Though I usually try to focus on new anime in these posts, this is also an exceptionally good season for sequels:
- Blood Blockade Battlefront & Beyond is the must-watch sequel of the season if you like dark comedy, cool fight scenes, and friendly alien New Yorkers.
- Osomatsu-san continues to be a hilarious show about terrible people being awful to each other with a dose of absurdist humor and general weirdness.
- Food Wars: Shokugeki no Soma returns to make me hungry with the very fun Moon Festival arc, and offers a far more pleasant shonen alternative to the ear-destroying Black Clover.
- March Comes in Like a Lion is still extremely good and terribly underrated, please watch this show.
- Hozuki’s Coolheadedness 2 is hiding on HIDIVE and has a new director and studio, but remains a strange and funny show about your favorite bureaucrat from Buddhist hell.
Watch are you watching this season? Tell us in the comments!