Three episodes in, now it can be said: Aoi Hana ("Sweet Blue Flowers") and Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 are my top shows of the summer season. And both are so good that, if they fulfill their promise, they could become anime masterpieces.
Close behind comes Bakemonogatari, and I'm enjoying a number of other shows, too: Spice & Wolf, Kanamemo, Princess Lover, Sora no Manimani, Canaan. I'm even watching Umineko no Naku koro ni with some enjoyment. And the outstanding Requiem for the Phantom and Pandora Hearts are continuing from the spring, as well as Cross Game, Saki, and the underappreciated Souten Kouro.
Aoi Hana is Marimite with kisses. The characters' emotions are shown with at least as much subtlety and strength as in Marimite, but the yuri relationships are more openly romantic.
Protagonist Fumi is wonderfully contradictory: a tall, elegant girl who feels awkward and inferior; a shy girl who speaks the truth -- such as openly blurting out to her long-time best friend that she's in love with a girl.
Near-perfect adaptation of Shimura Takako's manga. Beautiful watercolor art, and a great fanservicey opening animation directed by the director of Revolutionary Girl Utena, Ikuhara Kazuhiko. The show itself is directed by Kasai Kenichi, director of Honey & Clover. That explains a lot.
Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 throws together three people -- a good woman, a morose young teen, and the teen's angelic little brother -- stranding them in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake.
The characters are realistic and the earthquake facts and aftermath are realistic, too -- at least in the view of the agency in charge of disaster response, which assisted with the production.
Nothing is either rushed or over-dramatized, but the story feels rich in event, character, and emotion. Bright and well animated by Bones. New director Tachibana Masaki did episodes of GITS:SAC and Moribito. Writer Takahashi Natsuko wrote Blue Drop, Tales of Agriculture, and 07-Ghost.
Bakemonogatari is vintage Shinbou Akiyuki, with its complex backgrounds, odd camera angles, and bursts of Japanese text. But the original novel by NisiOisiN gives him some hilarious and fairly deep dialogue to work with.
I love the look of Shinbou's work, but the material often leaves me cold. This time is different, with a continuous flow of bizarre and humorous lines, and characters that are deep and strange.
The ironic tones of Saitou Chiwa bring to life the fascinating main female character, Senjougahara, who has witty exchanges with our former-vampire hero Araragi (played by Kamiya Hiroshi). Now they are working with a little lost snail-girl played by Katou Emiri, helping her (not) find her home.
Koshimizu Ami's amazing performance as the wolf-goddess Horo is the heart of this second season of Spice and Wolf, as it was of the first.
Horo's character is what makes this anime special. Mature, childish, lascivious, wise, alcoholic, kind, cruel, triumphant, in despair.
Amisuke's performance in episode 3 was a masterpiece of anime voice-acting. The fact that her straight man is Fukuyama Jun does nothing but help.
And the world of mediaeval commerce is interesting in itself, with the trades, the traders' associations, and the customs and politics of each town. But what makes the show tick is Horo.
Kanamemo is pure fun. A cast of good seiyuus plays a group of girls who live together and work delivering newspapers.
They are all versions of cliches, but none is harsh or negative, and every one is engaging: the yuri couple honestly in love (Hirohashi Ryou and Endou Aya), the drunken college student yuri wolf (Horie Yui), the tomboy (Kitamura Eri), the tsundere outsider (Kugimiya Rie), the grade-school girl who is the boss (a breakthrough role for Mizuhara Kaoru), and the sweetly brainless moe heroine (Toyosaki Aki, who played the similar role of Yui in K-On). They are all endearing characters, each in her own way.
Episode four wtf-ed us by being a kind of mini-musical, with the characters randomly bursting into song -- largely in tune. We get to hear the quite good singing voice of Endou Aya, who did the voice-acting for Sheryl in Macross Frontier, but was passed over when it came to doing her singing.
Sora no Manimani is another fun comedy, with some astronomy education lurking in the background.
Itou Kanae (Amu in Shugo Chara) proves she is more than just a magical girl. She gives a very strong performance as the irrepressible comic heroine Mihoshi, who is given to delightedly tackling her osananajimi, played by Maeno Tomoaki (Doujou in Library War).
Tomatsu Haruka creates another Nagi-level comic persona as Mihoshi's romantic competitor, Hime. I was mainly looking forward to this show for Hayami Saori, who does a nice job as a mild-mannered senpai ojou-sama, but she is far from being the main attraction.
Princess Lover is a straight-ahead harem comedy. But it has a fairly sensible story, four good female leads, and an excellent male lead. No brainless wimp, our hero is a master swordsman and an intelligent guy who is kind and open to all the girls he deals with along the way. He accepts his good fortune, being taken from a life of ordinary poverty to become the heir of a great family, and does what he can with it.
The girls are an interesting group: the beautiful scatterbrained princess whom our hero saves from robbers is played by Yuzuki Ryouka (Yuki-nee in Candy Boy). The hero's sword-wielding arranged-marriage fiancée is played by Toyoguchi Megumi (Revy in Black Lagoon). The tsundere ojousama is played by Katou Emiri (Kagami in Lucky Star). And the maid is Matsuoka Yuki (Tsuruga-san in Suzumiya Haruhi).
Canaan is the second show from new studio P.A. Works (the first was true tears). The animation, color, and action are first-rate. The story is still a bit confused, but writer Okada Mari (true tears) is beginning to pull it all together.
The two main characters are played by Sawashiro Miyuki and Sakamoto Maaya, both of whom are in top form. The characters, Canaan and Alphard, are miraculous fighters, bitter enemies with a past. And probably both genetically enhanced.
Fans are generally disappointed in Umineko no Naku koro ni, and it is a fairly standard closed-environment murder mystery with supernatural overtones, but the plot moves at a brisk pace, and I am being entertained.