Though many of us would rather forget about 2016, it was an exemplary year for Japanese animation. While it is still early yet, 2017 shows no signs of that changing.
From the underdog story of a video game tie-in, to the latest entries in decades-long franchises, to the pet project of some of the best artists working in animation, you are guaranteed to find a film in this list that will make you feel the whole spectrum of human emotions: joy, sadness, existential dread, arousal, and maybe even all of them at the same time.
Above: Style meets substance in these 2017 anime movies.
Beck and company survive in a world ravaged by war with the machines.
Red Ash: Magicicada
Though it is not the only anime film based on a video game slated for a 2017 release (“Chain Chronicle”and “Ao Oni” could also have filled this spot), “Red Ash” is particularly interesting in that the anime could very well overshadow the game.
Said game “Red Ash: The Indelible Legend” was being developed by Comcept, the game company founded by Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune. “Red Ash” was set to be an open world third-person RPG, calling back to the Mega Man Legends series. After Inafune’s lackluster first Kickstarter project, “Mighty No. 9,” “Red Ash” seemed as if it was doomed. While the game did fail its Kickstarter goals, the tie-in animated film “Magicicada” succeeded. It is currently being produced by Studio 4C, who have worked on a number of original video animations (OVAs) and films of licensed properties.
“Magicicada” is a treasure-hunting adventure that is being created through the Anime Tamago 2017 young animators training program, and is the only selection for the year to feature 3D CG animation. Inafune has stated in the past that “Legend” will still be released, and it will be interesting to see what becomes of this new branding.
The home team comes together.
Kuroko’s Basketball: Last Game
The weekly anime anthology “Weekly Shonen Jump” has served as the launch point for a number of globally recognized franchises over the years. While “Kuroko’s Basketball” may not have the fanbase of “One Piece,” the staying power of sports anime cannot be ignored.
The film is set to be a direct sequel to the latest animated series in which the all-star basketball team the Generation of Miracles—plus characters Kuroko and Kagami—will face off against an American team. Perhaps the most interesting part of this early information is the prospect of seeing a North American game and American team through a Japanese lens. This is especially considering that half of the characters on the American team are black, which is a particular rarity in anime.
Bright colors and magic on a winter vacation characterize this Doraemon movie.
Doraemon the Movie 2017
A trip to the Antarctic turns planet-threatening the 37th film in the Doraemon franchise. The film is being written and directed by Atsushi Takahashi, who in the past has worked on “Lupin the Third,” “Space Dandy,” and “Spirited Away.”
Doraemon’s color palette and animation are bright and whimsical, evoking Mickey Mouse-meets-Hayao-Miyazaki. Though primarily targeted at a younger audience, it does not appear that this is a movie which will put older viewers to sleep as the sense of adventure that is created by early promotional material has the potential to be a truly memorable experience.
Will Kirito master yet another game? Probably.
Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale
Sword Art Online is a franchise that outlived its original premise. For those who are unfamiliar with it, the original story arc of the show and manga focused the 10,000 or so people trapped in a VRMMO (Virtual Reality Massively Multiplayer Online) game in the not too distant future. While fans of “.Hack” and “Log Horizon” will find this premise familiar, “Sword Art” resonated with audiences in a way that turned it into a sensation. That first story arc offered “if you die in the game you die for real” stakes, which later arcs did not have. Each proceeding arc had lower stakes than the last, reaching a point where several episodes of the most recent were dedicated to protagonist Kirito and his harem (of inexplicably-interested-in-him women) doing a raid together.
“Sword Art Online The Movie: Ordinal Scale” might be just the thing to reinvent the series. The name of the game is augmented reality; perhaps inspired by the popularity of “Pokemon Go,” “Ordinal Scale” is a game that maps itself over the real world using an eye-piece not unlike the head-mounted display Google Glass. What is and is not real becomes increasingly hard to discern (made all the more interesting by the fact that this technology is currently being developed in real life). And all of this is wrapped in the well-animated package that helped bring “Sword Art” its original fanbase.
Hope can persist in even the most unlikely of circumstances.
Planetarian: Hoshi no Hito
Set in a post-apocalyptic world where humanity has nearly been wiped out by biological and nuclear weapons, “Hoshi no Hito” is an adaption of a visual novel and a light novel from the Planetarian franchise. The visual novel, subtitled “The Reverie of a Little Planet,” focuses on a middle-aged man known as the junker living in a derelict city. He comes upon a robot named Yumemi who is an attendant in an abandoned planetarium. After he repairs her projector, she shows him images of a star-filled sky that can no longer be seen due to pollution.
While little about the adaptation has been released so far, it is being produced by David Production and directed by Naokatsu Tsuda, who respectively are the company and director behind the “Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure” animated series, which has been one of the most consistently high-quality series of the past few years.
A classic espionage thriller with a fresh coat of paint.
Lupin the Third: Goemon Ishikawa’s Spray of Blood
“Lupin the Third” is one of the oldest manga series to spawn a franchise. First published in 1967, it focuses on the adventures of professional thief Arsene Lupin III and his ensemble of friends and foes. The series writer Monkey Punch based the character off a combination of fictional French gentleman thief Arsene Lupin and James Bond. Through numerous reprints and adaptations, Lupin has kept a carefree attitude in the midst of mystery and intrigue; in fact, Shinichiro Watanabe of “Cowboy Bebop” and “Samurai Champloo” fame has cited Lupin the Third’s first animated adaptation as a major influence on his work.
Said influence has come full circle in the trailer for the latest film in the franchise, “Goemon Ishikawa’s Spray of Blood.” Goemon is a character from the regular Lupin supporting cast: a master swordsman and martial artist who occasionally aids Lupin in his heists to guarantee that he is the person who will one day kill the thief. While little has been released about the story thus far, it would appear to focus heavily on Goemon. The artwork oozes style from every shadow and burst of colour and gives the entire returning cast a welcome face-lift while keeping them recognizable at a glance. The music also has a jazz coolness that previous entries in the series have become known for.
Lines between reality and dreams will blur.
Ancien and the Magic Tablet
The film’s official website may be hosted through Tumblr, but the pedigree of its creative team mark this as one to keep an eye on. Directed by Kenji Kamiyama and with music by Yoko Shimomura (of “Kingdom Hearts” fame), “Ancien and the Magic Tablet” has the makings of something truly special.
Set in a not-too-distant future where our reliance on machines has grown even further, protagonist Kokone should be studying for her high school entrance exams. Despite this she finds herself struggling to stay awake. Her naps are hardly restful though, as her dreams are populated by warring machines. As her waking and dreaming hours become more closely intertwined, so too do her past and future as family secrets become unearthed.
Early trailers and artwork promise a visually stunning film suffused with a dream-like quality.
Digimon Adventure tri: a nostalgic gut-punch.
Digimon Adventure tri. 4: Soushitsu (Loss)
If you grew up watching “Digimon,” then get ready for a blast from your childhood: “Digimon Adventure tri.” is a series of six films continuing the adventures of the original eight characters and their monster companions. The first in the series, subtitled “Reunion,” was released in 2015, and the fourth and most recent entry, “Loss,” is scheduled for late February 2017.
The story takes place three years after the events of Digimon Adventure 02, at a time when the series original protagonists have begun to drift apart as their lives diverge. They are reunited with each other and with their Digimon partners when the line between our world and the digital one begins to blur once again.
Early material suggests the story will focus heavily on the characters Sora and Biyomon as they attempt to rebuild their relationship after Biyomon lost her memories in the previous film.
Colorful costumes mask a bloody adventure.
Black Butler: Book of the Atlantic
The Black Butler franchise is the story of a boy in Victorian England who is forced to grow up too fast. After the murder of his parents, thirteen-year-old aristocrat Ciel Phantomhive makes a Faustian bargain to maintain control of his family’s name and holdings. Ciel acquires the services of the demon Sebastian Michaelis, the titular butler who anticipates his master’s every need and fulfills them with acute grace and precision. In return, when Ciel’s life eventually does end, Sebastian will consume his soul.
The story is a dark comedy mapped over historical and pseudo-historical events, such as the unsolved murders of Jack the Ripper. Ciel takes it upon himself to solve these mysteries as the head of the Phantomhive family. “Black Butler” has been adapted to a number of different mediums, including a video game, a musical, and both live-action and animated films. “Book of the Atlantic” is the latest of these, and it features Ciel and Sebastian boarding a luxury passenger ship as they investigate illegal human experimentation. Doctor Rian Stoker has found a way to return the dead to life, but his methods are unknown.
This film looks to continue the franchise’s history of dark stories and striking character designs.
Just like fireworks, this film captures the ephemeral nature of first love.
Fireworks, Should We See It from the Side or the Bottom?
Slated for an August 2017 release, “Fireworks, Should We See It from the Side or the Bottom?” (“Uchiage Hanabi, Shita Kara Miru ka? Yoko Kara Miru ka?”) is an adaptation of director Shunji Iwai’s live action film of the same title. The original film first aired on TV in 1993 and netted Iwai the New Director’s Award from the Director’s Guild of Japan.
“Fireworks, Should We See It from the Side or the Bottom” is the story of three friends, Norimichi, Yuusuke, and Junichi on summer vacation. They make a bet about what fireworks look like from the side, whether they are round or flat. They resolve to find the answer at the upcoming fireworks display. While this is happening one of their classmates, Nazuna, is dealing with her parent’s separation and sends a note to Norimichi asking him to run away with her.
The original film was broadly praised for how well it captured the aesthetic of growing up and the first sparks of love as they fly to life and disappear, and the animated adaption will aim to modernize the story while maintaining what made the original so well loved.
Images © respective film studios.