Most Anticipated: Love Live! Superstar!!
I’m not gonna lie, summer is looking almost certainly like a step down from its preceding season. Spring ’21 featured an embarrassment of riches for striking, unique, memorable series that left a major impression on me, and that’s going to be a hard act to follow. Looking over the upcoming lineup I couldn’t help but feel a little deflated, since only a couple of series really stood out. Then I remembered that not only are we getting a new Love Live! anime project just six months after the last one, but it marks the return of Takahiko Kyōgoku and Jukki Hanada – the director/writer team who made the original School Idol Project seasons such a joy to watch. I consider the second season of SIP to be one of the best anime comedies ever made, so their presence alone is enough to shoot Superstar to the top of my list, so much so that the gorgeous-looking teaser trailer is just gravy. My only hang-up was that the new group might mean saying goodbye to the Nijigasaki crew, but with that series also getting a second season, I’m officially getting to double-dip on Love Live! for the foreseeable future, and that’s just wonderful.
Otherwise, this is a season where I’m hoping to be surprised more than I’m anticipating any particular title. I’ve heard good things about the Kageki Shoujo!! manga, and I’m hoping the anime is able to deliver. My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! is back, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing how many more hot, rich people Katarina can seduce by eating dessert off the floor. The Case Study of Vanitas looks like some lavishly animated gothic cheese, which I’ll greedily devour like a raccoon dumpster diving behind a Hot Topic. Girlfriend, Girlfriend‘s premise sounds just stupid enough to either make a unique romcom or become a trash fire, and I’m excited to see which it chooses. But these are all vague guesses at what might be worth checking out than anything. Really, outside of my first pick, my most anticipated show is finally getting to see Godzilla Singular Point now that it’s out of Netflix Jail.
Most Anticipated: IDOLiSH7 Third Beat!
This feels a little bit like cheating, to be honest – I’m writing this having already seen the first episode. But even before that, I knew that this was one of the titles I was most anticipating going into the summer season, because it has exceeded my expectations every single time as a franchise. Admittedly those expectations were low at first; idol shows don’t tend to number among my preferred genres. But this particular story has managed to hit a winning blend of melodrama, genuine drama, character development, and candy-colored silliness. There are of course the usual standards: each boy is color-coded and embodies his own particular trope, there are rival groups, and that one guy who’s always willing to go just a little too far to get what he wants. In The Second Beat, we learned that Kujo, who fills that role, has basically stooped to adopting and brainwashing children he wants to make fulfill his idol dreams, and while there was a hint at this in the first season with Tenn, what he did with Aya takes things a step too far to write off. That it’s also tied up with the mysterious vanished idol Zero, whose shoes all of the current idols are trying to fill, just makes it even more alarming, especially since this new season will finally take us to the opening of the New Zero Arena, where all three of the groups we’ve been following will perform.
Or will they? There’s plenty that’s alarming going into this new season, from the PVs with some decidedly unfriendly new guys to whatever is going on with Yamato and his vaguely mysterious past – something that looks as if it threatens to tear him away from the rest of the IDOLiSH guys. The flashy fellow who confronts Momo at the swanky party also rings some warning bells, especially since his “look forward to it” is definitely not a line just recorded for the preview, but instead a hint of something that’s probably not good. Given what we learned about Momo’s relationship with Re:Vale last season, that, too, is more than a little worrisome. When I consider how the story and characters have built upon each other between seasons one and two, all of this adds up to make season three look like it’s going to tear things down, forcing all three idol groups to reckon with the lows of stardom just as they’ve grown accustomed to the highs. IDOLiSH7‘s first two seasons consistently told a good story that incorporated but didn’t rely on the trappings of idolhood. I’m looking forward to seeing how season three continues that trend.
Sequels actually are the name of the game for the other shows I’m looking forward to the most – the return of Bakarina in My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! should cover some fun elements and new characters from the novels (and hopefully end before the two-novel slump of books six and seven), and one of my favorite anime couples will return with Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid S. I’m tentatively excited for the second half of Higurashi: When They Cry, but I am concerned that it’s trying too hard to link with Umineko – When They Cry by turning Rika and Satoko into their witchy counterparts. I feel like either that or The Detective Is Already Dead will end up disappointing me, but I’m just weird enough to be interested in finding which one it will turn out to be.
Most Anticipated: Love Live! Superstar!!
What can I say, I think I’m a Love Live! lifer at this point. I feel like the series really has only gotten better with each successive season, with last year’s Nijigasaki High School Idol Club surprising even me with how much of a “Run and watch it as soon as the episode’s out” series it turned out to be. So while I’m still absolutely hoping that installment ends up getting the requisite sequel the previous Original Recipe Love Live! and Love Live! Sunshine!! were allotted, it also instilled in me a lot of general, franchise-wide faith in Sunrise‘s silly singing show. Central to that was the way Love Live! 3: Tokyo Drift showed that the creative crew behind this series weren’t afraid to mix the formula up a bit – making the members of the Idol Club individual performers instead of parts of a whole unit, centering a non-idol POV character as a new type of cast member, and even eschewing the titular idol competition itself early on. And Superstar looks to continue that sort of refreshing experimentation, reducing the number of focal idols down from what we’re used to, and pointedly framing the whole concept of this season as a fresh new start.
Really though, all the shake-ups could ultimately be superficial, and this would still be an easy pick for me due to reliability alone. As this past season just showed us, it’s hard to know before they premiere what brand-new, exciting shows will end up as the real winners. With that in mind, I’m always excited for surprising new stuff, but the concrete thing I’ll be anticipating usually ends up like Love Live!: a series that’s consistently entertained me, with solid escalations of that value each time it gets a sequel. And that’s why, years on from the original, Love Live! is still a series I’m looking forward to with the coming season. And all that for a musical franchise that I’m pretty ambivalent about the actual music of, so you know it must be doing something right!
Runners Up: Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid S and Aquatope of White Sand
I’ll confess that I have some trepidation about the return of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid. The original 2017 series was one of the absolute best shows I saw that year, but there was still a fair bit of off-color material that could clash with the more wholesome elements I thought the series really thrived on. And I’ve already heard some concerns about the later-series content this sequel season could end up covering in that regard. But then again, I have to be totally honest: I really don’t care. After the absolutely horrific tragedy they suffered, seeing the triumphant return of Kyoto Animation to television anime is nothing less than a cause for mass celebration. And the Mini Dragon shorts they released ahead of this upcoming full follow-up season only confirmed for me how much I’ve missed the lovely little family of Kobayashi, Tohru, Kanna, and all their fantastical friends.
The aquatope on white sand would seem to be a bit more of an unknown, but not by much. P.A. Works‘ Sakura Quest is a series very near and dear to my heart (and hey, everyone loves Shirobako), and this new show seems to scratch a similar itch. I’m totally down to spend summer with the story of a girl falling into unlikely new employment, making new friends, and growing along the way. And the aquarium setting seems to be a novel, lovingly rendered environment for the story to take place in. Ultimately, this and my other choices do feel a bit safe, but that’s that reliability I professed appreciation for. Besides, just as with this past season, there’s no telling what surprising new stuff is waiting just around the corner to wow me.
Most Anticipated: Godzilla Singular Point
This past spring was so chock full of gobsmackingly incredible anime that I think this summer was bound to feel a bit sparse in comparison. While I haven’t seen anything yet that looks as daring as Odd Taxi or as dramatically satisfying as Megalobox 2: Nomad, that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of new and returning series to fill up our seasonal watchlists. My top pick is a series I technically mentioned on my Most Anticipated of Spring List, but you know what? If Netflix didn’t want to make things confusing for the rest of us, maybe it should have thought twice about sticking shows like Godzilla Singular Point in Netflix Jail. It was a spring series for Japanese fans (and internet pirates), but I’m a law-abiding critic, damn it, and I’ve been waiting months for this show to come out, so it’s going on the list! What more could I possibly say at this point? A brand-new Godzilla anime from a partnership between Bones and Studio Motherflippin’ Orange? And it features His Holy Robot King Jet Jaguar?. Yes. Yes to all of this. Immediately. No questions asked. (Though if Jet Jaguar doesn’t get his theme song from Godzilla vs. Megalon, there will be rioting in the streets, and I’ll be leading the charge).
Something that has also surprised me is how much I’m looking forward to the return of Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story. While my initial criticisms of the series still stand – it lacked focus in parts, and often felt like it was trying too hard to recapture the magic of its superior older sibling – there simply isn’t anything else out there that scratches that Madoka Magica itch. Even after a decade’s worth of would-be imitators vying for the crown, the Madoka franchise still reigns as one of the most visually arresting and entertaining franchises of recent years. In other words, even a lesser entry like Magia Record is still brimming with weird and wild spectacle, and enough nifty magical girl tragedy to keep the increasingly complex adventures of The Other Magical Girls™️ interesting. With Gekidan Inu Curry and the rest of the original Studio Shaft crew at the helm, I’m hoping I’m not jinxing anything if I say that we’re probably in safe hands. Is it as good as the real thing? Absolutely not! But sometimes a guy just wants to watch a bunch of emotionally fragile cartoon girls sparkle up some sweet outfits and sick weapons that they then use to descend into nightmarish labyrinths of cosmic horror and personal suffering that seem ripped straight out of Baba Yaga’s favorite pop-up-books. Is that so much to ask?
Most Anticipated: Kageki Shoujo!!
A few months ago, I lavished praise on the manga Kageki Shoujo!! The Curtain Rises; now that it’s getting an anime adaptation, it seems only natural that it’s my most anticipated series of Summer 2021. I’m specifically planning to cut down on my seasonal anime consumption, as I’ve felt burnout creeping in, but Kageki Shoujo!! shines as something I absolutely cannot stand to miss. It’s a shōjo series that isn’t primarily a romance, instead bringing the focus on character relationships that the category is known for to the complex network of rivalries and friendships formed between a group of young women training for a theater troupe that is obviously Takarazuka Revue with the serial numbers filed off. Ai and Sarasa are great heroines and perfect foils to one another, but I have special affection for Sarasa, a huge puppy-ish girl who interprets the world through the lens of her favorite anime series and really got into the whole thing in order to play Lady Oscar.
Although the animation only looked middling in the trailers, I have high hopes for this adaptation. Kazuhiro Yoneda did a great job with Yona of the Dawn, and Tsuneyoshi Saito‘s background music sounds lovely so far. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to have garnered much buzz, so I implore you: give this a shot. The source material really is excellent, and it looks like the anime will be worth your while.
Runners Up: The Case Study of Vanitas
This one I’ll be going into fresh, so it’s honestly pretty hard to say what exactly about it has gotten it to second place on my list. I haven’t read the manga, and to be honest, vampires aren’t really my thing. And yet, ever since the trailer came out, I felt drawn to it. Perhaps it’s the positive word-of-mouth; I have several friends who are fans of the manga, though I don’t know exactly what they love about it. Maybe it’s the sheer beauty of the animation in the trailer, which is gorgeously gothic. I haven’t seen any of the installments Tomoyuki Itamura directed, but the Monogatari series is certainly known for its striking imagery and that appears to be carrying through here.
Or maybe—and I’m being honest here—it has to do with the fact that when I asked my friend how homoerotic the main characters’ relationship is, they replied, “Seething.”
Most Anticipated: How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom
This is an anime I probably would have hated as a kid—I would have been bored shitless. After all, back then I would have far preferred watching heroes fight to save the world than sitting through scene after scene of people discussing economics and governmental reform.
The setup is one you’ve heard a million times before. A “normal” Japanese teen is summoned from our world to be the “destined hero” in a fantasy world. There’s a demon king invasion and the human kingdoms of the world are just barely holding on. In the archetypical story, the summoned hero forms a party, trains up his martial and magical skills, and slowly but surely beats back the demon king’s army before finishing off the big bad himself.
However, this story is about a different kind of hero. When Souma is summoned to the fantasy world, he doesn’t begin learning magic or sword skills; instead, he starts going over the books. He is less concerned with the war against the demons than the immediate problems assailing the kingdom—i.e., famine, governmental corruption, and a stagnating economy. If these issues are not rectified, he reasons, then the kingdom will fall apart long before the demon army arrives. Soon the king himself abdicates in favor of an understandably shocked Souma. For while the former king is a good, kind man and a decent ruler, he realizes what his nation needs is not an idealist but a realist who is able to make the hard choices and blaze a path into the future.
Beyond economics, a lot of the focus of the story is on propaganda; in other words, making the common man want to work with you and believe in you while aiming towards a greater goal. Even when war enters the story, it’s not so much about the fighting as the strategy behind it. It’s about manipulating your enemy through information and personal insight—making backroom deals and using politics to assure your victory before the battle has even begun.
In other words, this is a story about a hero who truly understands that knowledge itself is both the greatest tool and the most terrible weapon. So if you’ve enjoyed shows like Maoyuu and Spice and Wolf, you should definitely give this one a chance as well.
Runners Up: Tsukimichi -Moonlit Fantasy-, The Duke of Death and His Maid, My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!
It’s a good season for fantasy anime. Starting off we have Tsukimichi -Moonlit Fantasy-, the story of a young man who gets pulled into a fantasy world by a vain goddess who abandons him to die in a monster-filled wilderness because he is too ugly. But what’s most interesting about it is his inability to speak the human language and how he must learn to survive without it. The Duke of Death and His Maid, on the other hand, is a lighthearted romcom featuring a young man cursed to kill anything he touches—regardless of whether he has gloves on or not—and the sexy maid who flirtingly invades his personal space again and again. Finally, we have the second season of My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! where, having avoided her destruction, our “villainess” is forced to reckon with another big question: what’s next?
Most Anticipated: Kageki Shoujo!!
Look, I’m a simple anime consumer whose tastes were tempered by obsessing over Revolutionary Girl Utena. If you conspicuously construct your series either narratively or visually around theatricality, OR if there are women wearing epaulettes, then I’m going to watch it. This summer, Kageki Shoujo!! satisfies both of those conditions and thus rockets to the top of my watchlist. I really don’t know much else about its source manga besides the abstract: girls attend a training school for an all-female musical theater group a la the Takarazuka Revue, and character drama about the dramatic arts ensues. It looks to be a lot more grounded than the recent Takarazuka-influenced Revue Starlight, but I’m still on board! If every anime had a talking giraffe, then having a talking giraffe in your anime would cease to be special. I also like that the series wears its shōjo roots on its sleeve—our tall lead dreams of playing Oscar from the Riyoko Ikeda classic Rose of Versailles—and the adaptation seems poised to do that side of it justice. Or at least I’m assuming so based on how many flower petals I saw in the promotional video.
Director Kazuhiro Yoneda and Studio PINE JAM most recently worked on the anime adaptation of Gleipnir. I know that wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I loved it, and that’s what matters the most. More seriously, though, I think that anime did a good job embracing both the filth and earnestness of its source material. I don’t expect Kageki Shoujo!! to have a whole lot in common with Gleipnir (and it’ll probably have a whole lot less pegging symbolism), but I do expect Yoneda to helm an adaptation that finds and enhances its core essence: the comforts and conflicts between its two leads, with the magic and melodramatic world of the theater serving as their backdrop. Plus, we need more tall girl anime leads, so I’m going to be the change I want to see and hype this show up.
Most Anticipated: Sonny Boy
Did someone say Shingo Natsume? I’m going into a lot of the summer season blind, minus what was shown in trailers. There’s a handful of series I’m tentatively interested in, but Sonny Boy is easily at the top based on pedigree and premise. “A group of 30-odd students drifting through spacetime where their emotional states greatly influence their perception of reality” is built into my astrology chart. I’m all for brain-trippy entertainment that makes me question my grasp of common concepts like “up” and “spatial consistency.”
The series seems to be a passion project for Natsume, who is not only directing the original series but also wrote it. Natsume has garnered a well-earned reputation for calling in some of the industry’s best talents and I’m expecting something similar with Sonny Boy. The series already boasts character designs by Hisashi Eguchi, perhaps best known for Perfect Blue and Roujin Z.
Beyond Sonny Boy, I’ll definitely be checking out KyoAni’s return to the world of dragons, Fena: Pirate Princess, Higurashi: When They Cry – SOTSU, Peach Boy Riverside, The Case Study of Vanitas, The Idaten Deities Know Only Peace, The Great Jahy Will Not Be Defeated!, and Kageki Shoujo!!