Most Anticipated: SSSS.Dynazenon
This one's not even a contest. 2018's SSSS.Gridman felt like the most ‘made for me’ anime I'd seen, a once-in-a-lifetime tokusatsu mashup by Trigger that could only happen because of the specific nerdy predilections of Akira Amemiya and his crew. Well, I guess it wasn't THAT once-in-a-lifetime, since they're doing another one in the form of SSSS.Dynazenon! This is what happens when your esoteric toku spinoff turns out to be a smashing commercial success, I suppose. But aside from simple elation at this thing existing, I'm intrigued by what Dyanzenon's apparent sequel status signifies story-wise for the newly-christened Gridman Universe. I don't want to get too specific with speculation for the sake of spoilers for SSSS.Gridman (and if you still haven't watched that show, do go check it out) but right out of the gate with this new entry we beg the question of exactly where these characters are or how the action around them is taking place.
Amemiya's trademark direction is also visibly back in the trailers with the almost languid framing of the characters in their everyday lives, letting us marinate in that speculation before all the massive monsters and robots crash into their world. And while the revelations of what was ‘really’ going on in SSSS.Gridman make up a huge part of its appeal, I'm going to try not to pressure similar speculation as my main way of engaging with Dynazenon. There's already a host of interesting-looking brand-new characters (the designs of which I'm still furiously puzzling over whether or not they're more homages to obscure Transformers) and a giant dragon-robot ready to wreck some Kaiju. That base toyetic appeal is always going to be a huge part of my enjoyment of this franchise. Denkou Choujin Gridman is one of my favorite tokusatsu shows, and SSSS.Gridman is one of my new favorite anime, so suffice to say I have felt like I couldn't wait for SSSS.Dynazenon since the day it was announced. Thankfully, I won't have to wait much longer.
Coincidentally, the other shows I'm most interested in this season are also sequels to 2018 standouts. Zombie Land Saga was an absolute jolt during its run, running the gamut from madcap humor to shocking emotional resonance. The series wasn't even close to running out of steam when its first season wrapped, so I'm quite keen to see where the next installment, Zombie Land Saga Revenge, takes our bizarre group of undead idols. Maybe we can finally get some focus and backstory for Yugiri, and of course, more action from the incredible, the inimitable, the legendary Yamada Tae! Overall though, I think I'm just happy to have Zombie Land Saga back in my life as an institution. Despite being but a kooky comedy, this was THE show in its season that had me racing to message my friends about it after every episode. Without describing any specific moments of resonance, that's the best way I can communicate the impact this show had on me, and I'm ready now to see it get its Revenge.
Alongside that one, I'm anticipating the return of another surprise favorite: How NOT to Summon a Demon Lord, the appeal of which was unexpected for a lot more conventional reasons. I'm hardly a fan of the isekai genre, and the outrageously bawdy setup seemed to prime that series to be a pretty shameful time. But Demon Lord is a show that turned out to have a lot of heart apart from its initial impressions, beginning with lead character Diablo being immediately more interesting in his internal issues than your typical fantasy-world ciphers. This show has been really willing to engage with the injustices obviously inherent to its setting, and explore how those running it might react to such an overpowered outsider suddenly being dropped in as a free agent. And yeah, it could get saucy a lot of the time, but for the most part that ended up being good-natured and fun (let's just maybe avoid going in as deep as Episode 10 did again, okay?). I went into the first season smugly thinking I was going to get some silly isekai thing to dunk on, so I'm pleased to be able to humbly look forward to its follow-up with genuine excitement this time.
Most Anticipated: The Saint's Magic Power is Omnipotent
It's really a three-way tie for me: I'm feeling a bit desperate for the new season of Moriarty the Patriot and excited for more Welcome to Demon School, Iruma-kun, but I decided that rather than wax eloquent about series you've already read me enjoying, I'd pick a title that's brand new.
Well, it didn't quite work out as I'd planned, because I'm eagerly awaiting the anime version of a story I've been happily reading and reviewing. The Saint's Magic Power is Omnipotent is one of my current favorite light novel series coming out in English. It won me over when all I had to go on was its summary, letting us know that it follows the adventures of a working woman suddenly summoned to another world, because let's face it, it's exciting when the person isekai'd away isn't in high school. Sei's one of two people summoned to become the Saint, and despite the fact that it's pretty clear she's probably the one, the other person is (wait for it) a high school girl, so the prince of her new home just assumes that the younger, prettier lady is the one he's been waiting for. This puts Sei in a very awkward position, but she's not content to just languish in the castle, feeling bad for herself.
She ends up working as a researcher, where it soon becomes evident that there's more going on here than meets the eye – and that's not just because people can see that she's clearly incredibly powerful. Sei has to readjust her worldview, not in the sense that "now there's magic", but more in that she's forced to abandon her unhealthy work habits and learn to actually enjoy her life. Naturally there's a romance component as well, and I'm interested to see how the show handles that, because the original author repeatedly comments in the novels that she keeps cutting the romance plot back so that she can fit everything else in. That means that there's room to both adapt the books faithfully and play with the author's initial vision for the story, and while I've been burned by adaptations of books I like before, that doesn't stop me from hoping that this time, things will be perfect. I really can't wait to find out.
Most Anticipated: To Your Eternity
Are you like me and enjoy putting your limbic system through an emotional marathon until all the saltwater has vacated your body via your tear ducts? Do you enjoy deeply affecting treatises on the inevitable suffering of humanity? Are you a fan of good doggos? To Your Eternity is based on a manga by noted sob-inducer Yoshitoki Ōima, the artist behind A Silent Voice. I have personally read the first five or so volumes, enough to cover the first two story arcs, and it looks like all of them will be covered in this upcoming season. To Your Eternity is very good in a way that's difficult to describe without revealing spoilers, but essentially: an enigmatic being sends the main character, Fushi, to an Earth-like planet to observe its people. Fushi is formless but can change shapes as he encounters new lifeforms. His journey is far-reaching as he encounters different cultures.
Like any good "alien comes to Earth" story, Fushi learns about the complicated connections between humans and through learning about life, comes to develop his own sense of self and moral perspective. Even though I know everything that will likely happen, I'm excited to see Oima's lush artistry and deeply affective emotional storyline put to the screen. This could easily be my Anime of the Year if it's done right.
Runners-Up: Megalobox 2: Nomad
This series has lived on in my head for the better part of three years. It was something outside of my typical wheelhouse (sports) and based on something I hadn't watched (Tomorrow's Joe), but it oozed coolness right out the gate and then unleashed an opening song that is still one of my favorites of all time.
The ending theme is likewise a banger. Maybe more importantly, content-wise, Megalobox took its origin and reinvented it. The series is a poster boy for "cool", down to its sketchy filter that invokes that 90s' hand-drawn feel to great effect. The mechanical boxing rigging mixed with the Mesoamerica setting means it looks like nothing else coming out of the anime scene. It's the sort of dusty steampunk where snake-tattooed gangsters will cut out your eye and athletes are celebrated as heroes. Nomad promises the return of "average Joe" Junk Dog, now dubbed "Nomad." His star has faded and he's battling a drug addiction that compromises his ability to return to the spotlight. Also, the fights in the previous season were so good, and I'm hoping to see a return to form in Nomad.
But can we please get Imai to return to sing the OP?
Most Anticipated: Combatants Will Be Dispatched!
The big selling point for Combatants Will Be Dispatched! is that it's from the same author as KONOSUBA. But here's the thing: it's way funnier than KONOSUBA. The story follows Number Six, a mid-level henchman in an evil secret society who is sent to a fantasy world to scout it for possible invasion along with his android companion, Alice. While he can get guns or other useful technologies sent to him, he must pay for them with “atrocity points” that he obtains from committing actions befitting of a member of an evil organization. This can be anything from forcing an innocent girl to say a dirty word to holding hostages at gunpoint.
But while the “atrocity point” system is indeed a source of infinite risqué humor, it's not the only one. Number Six and Alice have no sense of honor—they are actually more evil than the demons currently warring against the humans in this fantasy world—which constantly shocks friend and foe alike. Add to this a crazy cast of characters—from a knight whose greed knows no bounds to a priestess who gains power from destroying the love-lives of others—and you have an absolutely hilarious anime you shouldn't miss out on.
Runners-Up: Megalobox 2: Nomad
When it comes to reimagining a classic anime for a modern audience, it's hard to think of a bigger success than Megalobox. With a cyberpunk coat of paint to draw in the non-sports anime fans and a sociopolitical backdrop showcasing the evils of classism and xenophobia, it's far more than just a show about (mechanically-enhanced) boxers punching each other in the face.
Trailers for Nomad show a seven-year time jump and leave a ton of lingering questions. What happened to Joe after his championship fight? Why did he become “Nomad”? Where are his friends? What are the pills he is taking? With Joe at rock bottom once again, will he be able to make his way back to the top—and more importantly, will he even want to try? Honestly, I can't see how anyone who enjoyed the first season isn't frothing at the mouth for the second.
Most Anticipated: Megalobox 2: Nomad
This season is positively jam-packed with interesting-looking shows, and there are more titles than usual that I'm actively chomping at the bit in excitement for. That said, it was surprisingly easy to choose my number one spot for this list, because it's a sequel I've been dying to see ever since it was first announced. Megalobox 2: Nomad takes place seven years after the conclusion of the first season, and our hero “Gearless” Joe looks very much the worse for wear. Despite the triumphant conclusion of the first season, it seems that time and tragedy have all worn him down and forced him back to scrap in the ring with those hydraulic enhancements that define the sport of Megalo Boxing. Despite serving as a kind of grungy cyberpunk remix of the classic boxing anime Ashita no Joe, the first season of Megalobox managed to stand on its own two feet, largely due to the beautifully grimy sci-fi setting that director You Moriyama and the crew at TMS' 3xCube studios have so lovingly crafted for this franchise. Megalobox's most genius move was in how it didn't just pay homage to the kinds of mid-2000s sci-fi anime that us Westerners would have gorged ourselves on as they aired on Toonami or Adult Swim, but it replicated the look and feel of the way those shows exist in our nostalgic memory of them. The fact that the production team went out of their way to purposefully downgrade the resolution of their animation in order to mimic the smeary look of those old digipaint series is just one of the series' brilliant touches.
Megalobox 2 seems like it will be keeping up that keen aesthetic for this new chapter in the story of Gearless Joe, and if it can combine its pitch-perfect visual instincts with another killer OST, then we can at least rest easy in knowing that Nomad will be a feast for the senses, if nothing else. Even besides all of its style, Megalobox also managed to weave a compelling drama out of its mishmash of genre tropes and story beats, and Nomad looks to be a darker tale indeed. Joe might be back to living like the stray junk dog he started as all those years ago, but he's not dead yet, and while I'm curious to see what led him to such depths, I'm even more eager to see what he will have to do to claw his way back to the top.
Runners-Up: SSSS.Dynazenon and Joran: The Princess of Snow and Blood
Whittling down the Runner(s)-up slot for this list was a lot harder than nailing down a favorite, because like I said, there are a lot of shows I'm pumped for that are coming out this spring. You can essentially consider Godzilla: Singular Point to share this spot with SSSS.Dynazenon, but Goji is being trapped in Netflix Jail for who knows how long, so Dynazenon wins out by virtue of me getting to actually watch it sometime in the reasonably near future. Both Godzilla: Singular Point and SSSS.Dynazenon fulfill the role of “Badass Tokusatsu Adaptations that Make James Giddy with Kaiju-Smashing Delight”, and Dynazenon has the bonus advantage of being a kind-of-sequel to one of Studio Trigger's most acclaimed recent hits, SSSS.Gridman. Gridman kicked ass, so it stands to reason that Dynazenon will be good too, right? The CG looks great, the vibrant colors and fun character designs seem aimed to please a fan like me (aka an aesthete who sometimes wields the sensibilities of a geeked-out twelve-year-old that's hopped up on sugary breakfast cereals and too many Power Rangers reruns). Between Dynazenon, Singular Point, and Godzilla vs. Kong, 2021 sure is shaping up to be a hell of a year for us toku fans.
Also, I'd be remiss if I didn't include at least one non-sequel/Godzilla spinoff this season, so here's a shoutout to Joran: The Princess of Snow and Blood. Maybe it's because I've been on a bit of a 70s cinema kick ever since the pandemic hit, and this show is carrying some very obvious Lady Snowblood influences, or maybe it's because I just really dig the notion of an alternate-history science-fantasy series that has a pretty anime lady cutting people up with a sword. Being an anime original from Bakken Record, a studio with only a scant handful of productions under its belt, it could be that I'm taking a risk by betting on Joran, but all signs point to this show being an interesting piece of work, at least. Did I mention all of the pretty women and gonzo magic swordfights? Yeah, I'm thinking I'm fully on board for this one.
Most Anticipated: SSSS.Dynazenon
There are a lot of shows to pick from this season for Most Anticipated. Where Winter was dominated by long-awaited sequels, Spring looks to offer a fresh bloom of promising new series – both adaptations and originals. Now here is where I'd put Godzilla Singular Point as my most hyped, were it not already locked in the pits of Netflix Jail for who knows how long. So instead, I'll go with a different kind of kaiju clobbering action with SSSS.Dynazenon, the spiritual follow-up to Studio Trigger's shockingly original sendup of tokusatsu stories.
Not much is known about Dynazenon, seemingly on purpose. Promotional material has been intentionally vague about the plot, character dynamics, or how (if at all) it relates to its older sister series. While I'm usually not a fan of mystery box storytelling, the insane confidence and craft that SSSS.GRIDMAN displayed with its twists and surprises more than cemented my confidence in this creative team to make all that misdirection worth it. Combined with fantastic designs for the main cast, the already fantastic music in the trailers, and Akira Amemiya returning as director, and I'm already hankering to buy a whole line of action figures.
Beyond that, I'm also very curious to see what Odd Taxi is all about. The last couple of years have gone 2 for 2 on interesting and ambitious anthropomorphic animal shows, and while the aesthetic trappings of this one aren't as eye-catching as BNA or BEASTARS, I'm still ready to see some hardboiled drama go down in the animal kingdom. Meanwhile my music-loving side can't help but be excited for Those Snow White Notes, even if I know absolutely nothing about the shamisen. Speaking of music, we're somehow getting a Hikaru Utada song as the opening for To Your Eternity, so that guarantees I'll be watching that one for at least the first cour.
But really, much as I'm excited for new stuff, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't aching to dive back into My Hero Academia as soon as it returns. Both anime and manga forms have made this one of my all-time favorite shonen stories, and I've probably watched the trailers a hundred times apiece. Also by some blessing of the anime gods, this season is getting an ED by The Peggies! How can I not stan?
Most Anticipated: Thunderbolt Fantasy Season 3
Welp, time to turn in my anime badge to become a full-time 24/7 puppet enthusiast where I cheerfully yodel at my computer screen for their deaths. These are pretty much the only emotions I devolve into when thinking about the third season of Gen Urobuchi's wuxia-style puppet carnage, Thunderbolt Fantasy. While not 'animated,' each wood-carved character, brought to life by Taiwanese production company Pilli, is carefully acted with the skill that can only come from people who have been honing their craft for goddamn decades. The previous two seasons, and a few OVAs, ended up not only one of my favorite things to come from Booch's pen, but really just some of my favorite things period.
This series contains not only all the adventure of a Dungeons and Dragon's campaign with your best buds, but also some of the fine-tuned machinations I expect from The Butcher. Bursting with personality, it hits all the right spots as a historical fantasy while doing most of the tropes you want to see in some of the most bombastic and gravity-defying ways possible. It also has a lot more depth and forethought than most other adventures, not to mention the opportunity to visit those good puppet-boys again. I can't get enough of Shang's tired old-man attitude to Vape Wizard's smug posturing and the kind of crazy plots they end up creating or falling into (mostly falling, in Shang's case). While Season 1 was relatively contained, it really seems like the world Shang and the Gang once traversed has really expanded since. Season 2 ended on the introduction of THE REAL BIG BADS (?), and I really cannot wait to see what the series plans to do with it. The new baddies seem to be hamming it up in the trailer; one is even voiced by the excellent Natsuki Hanae in a departure from the goody two-shoes tone of Demon Slayer's Tanjiro. I also spotted a few other returning heroes. Time to fruitlessly clasp my hands together and hope that my favs aren't just going to be straight-up murdered after I waited so long to see them again. No matter what though, I'm certain that some puppet is going to die in a gruesome – but certainly entertaining – fashion, and I'll be screaming in the front row seat of the arena packed with an umbrella and a fresh pack of tissues.
Most Anticipated: Shadows House
Shadows House sticks out to me immediately thanks to its aesthetic and premise. First and foremost, I love the unapologetic gothicness of it, from the musty Victorian decorations to the integration of silhouette art into the character designs themselves. From what I can tell, it seems to be about a noble family of shadow people and their doppelganger servants who possess normal human features. I'm not familiar with the source manga, and the trailer doesn't give me a whole lot of useful information beyond that, but that's already a pretty strong premise. I especially like the creepy tension created by the opposing character designs. You have the ruling class, who are powerful and faceless, and then you have the lower class, who are dehumanized as dolls, but actually resemble real people. There's some neat stuff you can do with that beyond the obvious horror-tinged factor.
Staff-wise, Shadows House also looks promising. This is the director's first full anime, but Kazuki Ohashi has episode credits on shows I've enjoyed like Kakegurui, Tsukimonogatari, The Lost Village, Horimiya, and Aho Girl (okay maybe not so much that last one). The series is also being written by Toshiya Ono, who's worked on a lot of shows I've absolutely loved, like Gatchaman Crowds, tsuritama, Land of the Lustrous, and Perfect Insider. Yeah, I'm gonna throw my hat in with this weird gothic story about literally shady aristocrats. Hopefully it has even more sinister secrets lurking under its floorboards.
Runner-Up: Godzilla Singular Point
It just wouldn't feel like a Most Anticipated feature if I didn't use this space to highlight a highly promising anime that has been thrown unceremoniously into Netflix Jail for the duration of the season. And this one especially has a lot of good things going for it. First off, Godzilla rules. We don't have to belabor that point. Secondly, this is being co-produced by studios Bones and Orange, which is a novel combination, and I'm personally on board with whatever Orange touches. They are the masters of 3D anime at this point in time. Most importantly, however, this is being written by esteemed sci-fi author Toh Enjoe, who you might remember from the two weirdest episodes of Space Dandy. I've read and loved his novel Self-Reference Engine, so I'm eager to see what he's going to bring to the anime scene this time.
From the trailers, Godzilla Singular Point both looks vibrant and heavily features Jet Jaguar, which can only be a good thing. Godzilla's a huge and storied franchise, so what I really want out of new installments is as much unique personality as possible, and this seems to have it in spades. Just pair a solid human story with a bunch of very large monsters and robots, and I'll be happy. Again, it's a darn shame that it'll be locked in the Netflix Dungeon for us American viewers, but on the bright side, I'll have SSSS.Dynazenon to keep me company in the meantime.