I've seen 2-4 episodes of almost everything and now know which of the new animes I like best: Touka Gettan (pic), Hitohira, Lucky Star, sola, Seirei no Moribito and Emily of New Moon. It's an unusual collection, I know, but hey, what can I say?
Close behind come Saiunkoku Monogatari 2, Rocket Girls, Darker than Black, and Hayate the Combat Butler.
There are lots of other interesting anime: Claymore, Bokurano, Tengen Toppan Gurren Lagen, RomeoxJuliet, Heroic Age, Kaze no Stigma, Toward the Terra, Ookiku Furikabutte, Gigantic Formula, Lovely Complex...even Koutetsu Sangokushi and Shinkyoku Soukai Polyphonica have their strengths. I'll give brief reviews of almost every new show.
There are many good shows, but none I can see equalling any of the three masterpieces that started airing in April 2006: Simoun, NANA, and Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuuutsu.
Touka Gettan. The most mysterious show I have ever seen. Many people watched episode one, didn't understand a thing, and left. It turns out that episodes are running in reverse time-order, with each episode ending where the last one began. But the mysteries are so deep and so neatly revealed that this is a voyage of discovery. And the look and sound of the show are a feast for the senses.
Animation director Nishida Asako wrote in her blog that she was trying for sensual effects of touch and smell and "skinship." The music by Tada Akifumi, and its use by sound director Tsujitani Kouji are both outstanding. Nishida and Tsujitani both worked on Simoun, Fate/Stay Night and Yami to Boushi to Hon. Director Yamaguchi Yuji did Yamibou, and writer Mochizuki Tomomi directed Zettai Shounen. I started a wiki so we can help each other understand what's going on.
The show is set on the estate of a modern family responsible for keeping ancient gods and sorcery under control. It is a spin-off of the hentai series Kao no Nai Tsuki (Moonlight Lady), and it skates as close to hentai as a broadcast anime can come. We have already had apparent mother-son climax, girls embracing naked, goddesses sleeping together, a grandfather and a maid having sex behind a screen, and lots of nudity. But the sensuality is real and not just "ecchi" silliness.
Hitohira. This show couldn't be more different, but is just as good. Delicate emotions and complex but realistic relationships. It gives me the same emotional tightness in my chest as anime such as Simoun, NANA, and Bokura ga Ita, which are among my all-time favorites. Kawasumi Ayako is at the height of her powers as Nono, the head of a drama club who recruits a girl called Mugi who sometimes gets so nervous she can't speak. Nono's gentle kindness is beautifully mixed with harshness and her frailties and ambitions.
As Mugi, Kimoto Orie graduates from Futari wa Precure: Splash Star to a leading role that is both emotional and gently comic. Romance with a boy in her class, as well as hints of yuri, add to the show's savor. This show is made by the staff that made PetoPeto-san, and shows the same humanity and delicacy.
Lucky Star. I didn't know what to expect from Kyoto Animation's first foray into anime based on a comic strip ("4koma"). Nor was I sure that Hirano Aya could handle a purely comic role. I needn't have worried. This is brilliant, subtle, humane comedy and Aya is outstanding. The gentle humor doesn't suit everyone. Many people left this show early, disappointed not to see the detailed animation of a Kanon, and unable to get the jokes, which don't hit very hard but seep slowly into your heart.
For those of us who stayed, the show just gets funnier as we get used to its style and to the quirky personalities of the characters. Konata, played by Hirano Aya, is a girl otaku whose every waking hour is filled with thoughts of games, anime, and comics. But she has the knack of cramming for tests so she always passes with flying colors. The show is full of allusions to anime, manga and games old and new, but is still funny to those of us who only get a quarter of them. Aya nailed a voice for Konata, and it is so different from anything she has done before that people keep being surprised to learn it is her.
sola. Magic and romance by one of the authors of Kanon and the character designer for Da Capo. And with Noto Mamiko in a role that gives her hypnotic voice space to work its magic. Noto Kawaii is a charming creature of the night, hunted by a monster hunter, but sheltered by a high-school senior whose passion is photographing the sky. His cool and silent elder sister (Nakahara Mai) spends her life in bed in a hospital. His childhood friend (Honda Youko) goes with him to visit her every day. The monster hunter (Fujiwara Keiji) is accompanied by a goth-loli (Yukino Satsuki) who sleeps in a cardboard box and only comes out at night.
Despite the weird array of type-characters, the story is evolving beautifully, with subtle characterizations all round, and surprises in the plot. This show marks the return to prominence of Honda Youko, whom I loved as the lead in Uta~Kata in 2004, but who then dropped out of sight before getting a minor role last year.
Seirei no Moribito. Outstanding animation, outstanding backgrounds, outstanding voice-acting, outstanding music. And an interesting story with steady character development. Barsa is a female bodyguard who is hired by a king's concubine to protect her son. His body has been invaded by one of the magic creatures who were involved in founding the state. The setting is an amalgam of East Asian cultures looking most like a fantasy Korea of a thousand or more years ago. The king feels he must kill his son lest people lose confidence in the dynasty's rule.
So Barsa leads the boy away on a long journey, far from the privileged life he knew. But the king's assassins follow. The characters' motivations are complex and reasonable. This is not a tale of black and white but of shades of grey told in brilliant colors. Actress Andou Mabuki is brilliant as Barsa. And I am particularly enjoying hearing Tsujitani Kouji, sound director of Simoun and Touka Gettan, in a major role as her friend the healer.
Emily of New Moon. Another story by Lucy Maud Montgomery, who wrote Anne of Green Gables. Another orphan girl sent to live with relatives on a farm in Prince Edward Island. But Emily is a tough little girl who can see the spirit of the wind. She loved her deceased father dearly, and is able to stand up to her forbidding aunt. Her aunt never approved of her sister's marriage and feels more than justified now that her sister and that worthless husband have both passed away.
But Emily has allies in the husband of her other aunt on the farm, and in the servant-boy who helps out there. And she is more than a match for the kids at school, some of whom despise her for belonging to a rich family. Her honest strength begins to win her friends. The show is a model of NHK excellence, with great production values all round, and the story keeps bringing tears to my eyes.
Darker than Black. Who would have guessed that I would like this one? We have a world in which Tokyo has been sealed in by aliens beneath a sky of strange stars, each star connected to the presence of a "contractor" on Earth. Contractors are morally blank humans who have gained super-powers in exchange for performing inexplicable rituals after they use them. Our hero is a contractor who uses long strands of wire to entrap and slice his victims. Let the killing begin.
But the show is so well produced and directed that it all seems natural. And the human relations and emotions work. Director: Okamura Tensai (Wolf's Rain). Animation: Bones and Komori Takahiro (Wolf's Rain). Music: Kanno Yoko. Enough said.
Rocket Girls. A teenaged Japanese girl on holiday in the Solomon Islands happens on the Japanese rocket installation there when it has a big problem: its rocket can reliably fire into space only an astronaut who weighs under 40 kilos. This leaves out any adult males. Only young girls need apply. At least there is some reason for young girls to be featured in this show.
The hard-headed protagonist and her adventures are amusing and make sense in human terms. This is an entertaining trifle with decent animation and fresh, open backgrounds and character design. Sendai Eri is convincing as the young astronaut. The Japanese space agency cooperated in the production, and the show organized a lecture by a real Japanese woman astronaut to girls in science clubs from around Japan, including a group that built and launched their own rocket. The show started in February, but I'm counting it as a spring show because most of its run is in April-May, and in any case the first English fansub has only just appeared.
Hayate the Combat Butler. This show marks the arrival in the big time of new directorial talent Kawaguchi Keiichirou (Getsumen to Heiki Miina). He tears the fourth wall to shreds and the comic script, based on a popular manga, includes almost as many Japanese anime, manga and pop culture references as Lucky Star. And the cast is filled with comic talent: Shiraishi Ryouko, Kugimiya Rie, Tanaka Rie, Itou Shizuka, Matsuki Miyu, Ueda Kana, Inoue Marina, Nabatame Hitomi, Yahagi Sayuri, Takahashi Mikako. Wow. And OP and ED by KOTOKO -- for those who like her (not me).
Saiunkoku Monogatari 2. Kuwashima Houko is still great as the wonderful Shuurei, first female official in a fantasy version of Tang China. She will soon be returning to her post in Sa, after the New Year's festivities. But word comes that a strange rebel leader who may be her one weakness, the fascinating Sa Sakujun, is active in the snowy mountains. And her gentle but brilliant co-governor Tou Eigetsu's violent alter ego may rise and submerge him, despite the efforts of the devoted girl who loves him, played by Sendai Eri (who also plays the protagonist in Rocket Girls). I still love this show, but the first three episodes made me think that perhaps the 39 episodes of season one were enough for me.
Claymore. Kuwashima Houko again, as a silver-eyed half-demon demon-fighter in a world of shadows. Well animated, with evocative backgrounds. Dark and deep. And Paku Romi has joined the cast in episode 5. That's like having Meryl Streep and Cate Blanchett in the same film. The show has so much going for it that I can ignore the monsters, which normally I find completely uninteresting.
RomeoxJuliet. This show still has to prove itself to me, but it is well on its way. The romance works, the backgrounds are exciting, the adaptation from Shakespeare is bold and extreme: Juliet is a sword-wielding fighter for justice, and the figurehead of a Capulet fight to destroy the ruling Montagues. The only danger is that the plot might descend into a stereotypical battle of good and evil, like a kids' cartoon show.
Bokurano. Harrowing and unique mecha adventure from a great manga, with a Ghibli character designer, and starring a great cast: Minagawa Junko, Asumi Kana, Sanpei Yuuko, Makino Yui, Noto Mamiko, Sugita Tomokazu, Ishida Kei.
Tengen Toppan Gurren Lagen. A Sunday-morning show for kids and otaku, with outstanding animation and design, plenty of fanservice, and rollicking humor. To say nothing of a weird scandal involving the producer being forced to resign for calling 2channel the "anus of the Internet," after criticism of an episode whose animation was off-model (but highly artistic). Extremely popular among pure anime-lovers everywhere. But too much of a kids' show for me.
Kaze no Stigma. A young man from a clan of fire-sorcerers returns from overseas as an expert wind-sorcerer. But members of his fire clan are murdered by wind-sorcery after meeting with him, and suspicion naturally falls on him. The characters are well portrayed by a stellar cast including Fujimura Ayumi (Karada in Asatte no Houkou), Ono Daisuke (who is excellent here), Morinaga Rika, Ohara Sayaka, Itou Shizuka, Makino Yui (Misaki in NHK) and Inokuchi Yuka.
Koutetsu Sangokushi is a complete travesty of The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, casting it as a boys'-love tale of magic and close friendship. And yet I find it unusually interesting and enjoyable, despite how over-the-top it is in every way.
Ookiku Furikabutte. The story of an insecure young boy's rise to become a great high-school pitcher. Sports anime is not a genre I normally watch, but the first episode was well done and interesting in human terms -- despite the annoyingly weepy protagonist -- so I'll keep on for at least a while. The show has a pedigree: the director did Genshiken and Dokuro-chan. Character design and animation by the animator of Honey & Clover and Welcome to the NHK.
Lovely Complex. A very popular manga (Rabu-Con) interestingly animated. But I find the anime as frustrating as the comic, with a story line involving an ill-assorted couple who take forever to accept that they should be together. A lot of annoying comic noise surrounds the golden moments. Some people love it.
Heroic Age. The first episode captivated me with an exotic science fiction setting and an interesting space battle. A story by self-proclaimed genius Tow Ubukata (Fafner, Mardock Scramble, Chevalier), with character design by Hirai Hisashi. Starring Yazaki Hiroshi (Yano in Bokura ga Ita), Shimizu Kaori, Kugimiya Rie, Tamura Yukari, Arai Satomi, Kondou Takashi and 17-year-old actress Ishikawa Yui, who has a beautiful voice we will be hearing much more from.
Toward the Terra. Another real science fiction story, involving a boy whose telepathic powers are detected and who is to be eliminated by society until the secret telepaths step in to save him -- against his will. Remake of a classic science fiction movie.
Moonlight Mile. Real science fiction again, a story of international intrigue over resources on the moon. Harsh characters harshly animated. The story started strong, but became flaccid, replacing real development with ugly sex. Good space CG and Tanaka Rie.
Gigantic Formula. A mecha smorgasboard from Gotoh Keiji, director of Kiddy Grade and Uta~Kata, with mecha designs from a dozen top designers. Highly unusual character design that grows on you (or at least on me) and which shows its origins: Gotoh's main designer working with a key animator for Kamichu. With Satou Rina (Negi in Negima) in a lead role, and rising star Yahagi Sayuri, too.
OverDrive. I enjoyed episode one, but not enough to keep watching. The hero's rise from wimp to star rider, under the tutelage of a cool girl.
Shinkyoku Soukai Polyphonica. Powerful fairies in human form make contracts with human musicians who can mobilize their powers by their music. With that interesting premise, this is actually a case-a-week detective story for kids. But the relationship between the fairy and her contractor is meaningful and may become deep. A fine cast including Kamiya Hiroshi (Takemoto in Honey and Clover, returning to his first starring role following a devastating motorcycle accident), Kawasumi Ayako, Mizuki Nana, Satou Rina, and Konishi Katsuyuki.
Nanoha StrikerS. A powerful franchise in a genre I don't get. The first episode was very well done, and I love the cast: Tamura Yukari, Mizuki Nana, Ueda Kana, Saitou Chiwa, Nakahara Mai, Inoue Marina, Takahashi Mikako, Shimizu Kaori, Yukana. But I won't keep watching. For me, there's just no there there.
Kamichama Karin. Sticking with magical girls, here is a cute magical girl god. The show didn't do much for me, but Karin's friend Himeko, played by Shitaya Noriko, may be the classic performance of dojikko moe. Directed by Anno Takashi (YKK, Maison Ikkoku) from the popular manga by Koge Donbo (Di Gi Charat).
Princess Resurrection. Kawasumi Ayako almost saves this one, the story of the demon princess of the beasts who resurrects a boy who dies in an accident to serve her in her mansion. It's a comedy.
El Cazador. An interesting girls-on-the-road buddy flick starring Itou Shizuka and Shimizu Ai, and directed by Mashimo Koichi (Noir, .hack), but it just couldn't compete for me with other shows.
Oh! Edo Rocket. Other people love the quirky animation, cute girl, intriguing story, and wild humor. It's probably my fault that I just don't get it.
Nagasarete Airandou. It is what it is: ecchi harem show to the nth degree. A boy is shipwrecked on an island of women. They all want him. Stereotypical hilarity ensues. Horie Yui, Takahashi Mikako, Chiba Saeko, Shiraishi Ryouko, and Itou Shizuka are not enough.
Shining Tears x Wind. Boring fantasy adventure starring Hoshi Souichirou, Mizuki Nana, Kuwashima Houko, Horie Yui, Kawasumi Ayako, Okiayu Ryoutarou.
Sisters of Wellber. A big disappointment. The relationships weren't interesting enough, and the talking mini-tank sent me running.
Idolmaster Xenoglossia. A waste of a good cast. Mecha plus pretty young girls plus a very limp plot.
Kono Aozora ni Yakusoku wo. Not as bad as some people say. But not that good, either. Standard-issue game conversion.
Seto no Hanayome. I enjoyed the first couple of episodes more than most people, but not enough to keep watching. The same thing happened to me when I looked at the manga.