WHAT'S THAT? WIZARDS THAT MAKE COFFEE? I'M IN!
Above is a 45 second teaser for WIZARD BARRISTERS: VALVE MAGICIAN CECIL / , which will be the director's second original project since the rather disappointing KITE LIBERATOR from 2008. All of the director's trademarks - unique and somewhat doll-like character designs, completely over the top action, cute incidental characters and a flash of nudity (hardcore or otherwise) - are in full force, and it leaves me absolutely thrilled to see Umetsu doing something that... y'know, isn't the last 20 minutes of that Dante's Inferno game tie-in trainwreck project. It's set for a 2014 release, and if this trailer is even remotely true - an action packed courtroom drama about magical shenanigans?! -I couldn't be more excited.
BUT FIRST WE'RE GETTING... THIS?!
I honestly have no idea what to make of GALILEI DONNA ~ STORIA DI TRE SORELLE A CACCIA DI UN MISTERO. If I'm not mistaken this is Canoli for "Women of Galilei: A Tale of Three Mystery Hunting Sisters", but I barely know my Gialli from my Telifoni Bianchi, so I'll let someone more qualified make that distinction. Umetsu is evidently both the original creator of the show's premise and set to direct the series, but as you can see, the character designs - by none other than WORKING! character designer Shingo ADACHI - couldn't be much further removed from Umetsu's usual pulp-action aesthetic. At this point I don't know diddly about the show, so while I'm curious, I'm going to need at least a goddamn plot summary before I get excited about anything. At least Mrs. Kentai thinks it looks friggin' adorable.
I'll point out that it's part of the "Noitanima" (that's "Animation" spelled backwards in Katakana) block, which was at one point dedicated to creating unique, original works that might not have appealed to the typical otaku audience, and have shown some really inspiring and fantastic programming including Eden of the East, Tatami Galaxy, Moyashimon and my beloved Wandering Son, so it's entirely possible that whatever you think this show might be, you're completely wrong. Of course, they've also played Black Rock Shooter, Guilty Crown and Katanagatari in more recent years, so for all we know this will be to sell us Nendoroids and hug pillows. In short, nobody fuck'n knows anything yet, which keeps me firmly in the "not sure if want" category until something besides a few pretty character sheets I wasn't expecting can convince me otherwise.
Truth be told, I'm actually a little surprised how excited I was to see a new piece of Umetsu animation - brief and out of context as it was. Make no mistake, PRESENCE is an absolute masterpiece, and while I'm sure the controversy will always eclipse the work itself, so is A KITE... I happen to think the uncut version packs a hell of a bigger impact, but I won't deny that the edited version lets in an audience that otherwise wouldn't have given it the time of day, and while I think it castrates one of the most interesting questions the story brings up (effectively, "How would LEON have gone down if Jean Reno were the villain?"), if the R-15 Director's Edit means more people will actually watch Kite, I won't dismiss it completely. MEZZO FORTE is an exceptionally great little OVA and a surprisingly fun expansion on Umetsu's violent urban universe, it's just not quite as good as Kite, and so goddamn few things are that's hardly an insult.
The death knell of the OVA being usurped by limited-run TV series basically hobbled the MEZZO TV series, which honestly isn't terrible, it just starts off with an incredible, theatrical level first episode and then hits rock bottom hard, leaving a series that runs out of steam just as quickly as it runs out of money. It's watchable, but it's not good, and as Umetsu hasn't touched a TV series since I'm still wary that these could both suck, too. Then again, his follow up OVA - KITE LIBERATOR - was unfettered by budgetary or censorship constraints, and it was kind of a cluster in its own right. Had it been directed by almost anyone else as an original concept I'd likely have thought it was slightly above average, but as a successor to his previous works, it falls incredibly flat. Apparently the producer behind the project, John Sirabella of Media Blasters, was no happier with the results than most of its audience... I guess if anything about Liberator makes me smile it's that it managed to make the head of one of the single most infuriating licensors in North America that much more miserable.
That said... well, I fell in love with Umetsu for more than his slow-motion bullet explosions and psuedo-legal child pornography (though neither of those things really hurt, either). The man is a visual artist with a uniquely beautiful aesthetic that's unique and instantly eye-catching, and as a technical animator his understanding about the way the human body moves - particularly in reference to action set pieces like gunplay - is some of the absolute best in the business. In short, even when Umetsu makes crap at least he goes all the way with it, and if his last two "personal" projects have been the victim of circumstance it doesn't for a moment persuade me to assume he doesn't still have an exceptional anime series left in him.
This left me wondering, are there any anime directors I'm legitimately excited to see new works from? There's always Akiyuki SHINBOU, certainly, but he's a directorial shotgun; he's either a direct face-shredding hit (Puella Magi Madoka Magica), or a big bang and a lot of dust in the wind (Dance in the Vampire Bund). Tetsuro ARAKI has an impressive enough pedigree that I try my best to keep tabs on him, but it took half a dozen episodes of Attack on Titan to make me give a shit, and if this wasn't a guy I already loved thanks to stuff like Death Note and Kurozuka, I probably would have given up before the lead character turns into a 50 foot cannibal version of The Incredible Hulk. Cowboy Bebop was so damn good we're STILL lusting for it 15 years later, but Shinichiro WATANABE came back with Kids on the Slope, and I couldn't have cared less - maybe that upcoming Space Dandy will do it for me, but I honestly have no clue. The guys who have directed my absolute favorite titles from the past few years - Shigeyasu YAMAUCHI of Casshern Sins, and Hiroshi HAMASAKI of Shuguri: Death Frenzy - have had no shortage of work since, they simply haven't done much else that's appealed to me, thematically or aesthetically speaking... though I probably should give Steins;Gate a chance, weak animation quality or not. That, of course is a flaw in MY expecting a director who made something I like to consistently make that thing - whatever it might be - over other things, but... it's still frustrating. The best I can do is skim, see what looks interesting and go from there.
On the other hand, throwing darts and seeing what sticks has recently brought WataMote to my attention. What's NOT to love about a sitcom focused on social anxiety and self-hatred? Where the joke isn't the self-insert character saying "I seriously hate my life. I should just kill myself." isn't the joke, but her annoyed sibling's attempts to get her to fuck the hell off, are? (Seriously though, pre-order a pound of prozac if any of that sounds like it might feel a bit too... familiar.)
Friends, I ask you: What directors do you look forward to announcing a new project? What creators get your blood boiling, your expectations soaring? I don't for a second think that Japanese animation has gotten any less interesting or consistent than it's ever been - selective memory has a way of convincing people that everything from any given period was good, and brother is that a load of horseshit - but I am finding precious few directors or even studios who consistently give me something that's legitimately fascinating. I don't mind exploring, stumbling on some lemons and walking away with a few peaches. I just wish I had a few names I should look forward to consistently, the same way I do with live action material.