Crunchyroll Expo 2022 Crunchyroll Expo 2022

News that the Sony-owned streamer Crunchyroll made yet another acquisition in the anime distribution landscape with its purchase of Right Stuf Anime loomed over the weekend, but the content on display at this year’s Crunchyroll Expo (CRX) in San Jose, California stood out as a delight to behold.

Across three days of panels, screenings, and even concerts (with metal bands like SiM, known for their songs from Attack on Titan, and Burnout Syndromes, known for work on the sports anime Haikyu!!), the biggest and most high-profile projects were in attendance. And, while each did fall under the shonen anime umbrella, the work was still exciting for its aesthetic diversity.

Here are three standouts from this year’s CRX.

Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero

The best established shonen title at this year’s expo, Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero, proved that the 38-year-old series still has plenty of life in it, adopting a new 3d animated style that feels thematically tied to its pondering about the past and future of its characters. It’s also worth noting the Super Hero will be Crunchyroll’s first-ever global theatrical release, and will include IMAX screenings.

Touted as something of a comeback for Gohan ­– a fan-favorite character long sidelined after being set up as the successor to protagonist Goku, his father – Super Hero brings back old enemies in the form of the Red Ribbon Army, not seen since Dragon Ball Z.

A panel with the vocal talent from the (excellent) English dub of the film included Kyle Hebert (Gohan) and franchise newcomers as antagonistic androids and wannabe superheroes Aleks Le (Gamma #2) and Zeno Robinson (Gamma #1). The latter shared charming anecdotes about going through the audition and recording process together, discussing how they interacted with the performances of their Japanese counterparts. All panelists shared their excitement about Gohan’s return as well as Kodama’s experimentation with 3d animation, a choice that initially inspired some pushback from fans.

During the panel, the first 20 minutes of the film were screened and showed some tongue-in-cheek recaps of the series’ history with the Red Ribbon Army, leading into a brief skirmish between the co-protagonist Piccolo and his new machine foes. This being Dragon Ball, the sound and fury of its action is also tied to a simple, sentimental, and charming story about paternal relationships, this time about the surrogate fatherhood between Piccolo and Gohan – “his real father” according to voice actor Hebert.

The use of the new animation style wasn’t best-served by some overlong and static scenes of expository dialogue in the clip. However, it’s in the action where director Tetsuro Kodama and cg director Jae Hoon Jung’s work really begins to pop. The enthusiasm of Super Hero’s experimenting is infectious as it toys around with dynamic camerawork, textures, and lighting which give its various brawls both a sense of depth and a playfulness. The latter was especially true in the tail end of the 20-minute preview, when the film embraced the visual quirks of comic books with massive, written sound effects appearing on screen to punctuate each hit. And, in a fun meta twist, one of the characters can actually see them, much to his own confusion.

While it takes some getting used to, the sneak peek was an encouraging look at the upcoming film and how it fits in a continuum of cg-animated films such as the upcoming Trigun Stampede from studio Orange and the recently released Belle from Studio Chizu. Super Hero shows promising and creative uses of the artform, finding new thematic purpose for its visual quirks.

Mob Psycho 100 Season Three

Shrouded in mystery for some time, the long-awaited return of Mob Psycho 100, produced by Bones, caught our eye. Ahead of its October release, the studio showed off the first two episodes of the new season which, while impressive, also came with the promise that the craziest work is yet to come.

The new season promises more wildness – like the psychedelic barrage of its opening title sequence (above) full of remarkable hand-drawn smoke effects, collages of different textures, and visually integrated lyrics. An extra bit of fun: the theme song itself featuring vocals of a choir made from members of the animation production team – including the character designer and director of animation. The new season includes more lavishly presented, entirely hand-drawn action from director Yuzuru Tachikawa and his production team.

Despite the visual upgrades, Mob Psycho 100 season three will still fully embrace mundanity as much as its previous installments did, with its introverted protagonist less concerned about his immense power and more about winning the respect of his peers in traditional, every-day pursuits.

Calmer than might be expected from the franchise, episode one is a low-key reorientation of who’s who and what’s happened in the time since season two ended. Time is dedicated to reintroducing the show’s cast of amicable weirdos as well as a focal point of the season: a strange, giant broccoli that sprouted in the middle of the city as the result of psychic exertion from Mob in the final battle of Season 2. Being worshipped as “The Divine Tree” by a religious sect, the broccoli seems a bizarre background detail for now, likely a huge problem later on.

The second episode turns towards the more lavish spectacle which fans anticipate from the show: seeing Mob and Reigen join a ridiculous yokai hunter on a supposedly epic quest to behead a self-proclaimed demon king, a task undertaken with both irreverent comedy and spectacular camerawork.

There’s still a lot of fun to be had with Reigen’s con artist bluster as he “unlocks a rice grain’s true potential” or hurls salt in the face of another worldly demon. The character is representative of the joy of Mob Psycho, threading a needle between mundanity and the supernatural, charlatans and the real deal.

While these episodes are all about characters attempting to return to normalcy and balance the scales between everyday life and supernatural chaos, the show’s creators promise things will get out of control further down the line – and with a team this creative, it’s sure to be a blast.

The return of the show is surely one of the most hotly anticipated among an increasingly packed October anime slate. And in an important sidenote, in addition to finishing production on Mob Psycho 100 season three, Bones has also wrapped the fourth season of Bungo Stray Dogs well ahead of time; an anomaly considering the frequently dire circumstances surrounding anime production.

Chainsaw Man

Based on the gnarly, idiosyncratic manga series by Tatsuki Fujimoto, the anime adaptation of much-loved Chainsaw Man is shaping up to be one of the most anticipated shows of the year, anime or otherwise.

As in the manga ­– which happen to be some of this writer’s favorite comics of recent years – Denji is a teenage boy living with a (very cute and cuddly) Chainsaw Devil named Pochita. Due to the debt his father left behind, he has been living a rock-bottom life while repaying the deficit by harvesting devil corpses with Pochita. One day, Denji is betrayed and killed, and as his consciousness fades he makes a contract with Pochita and is revived as “Chainsaw Man”– a man with a devil’s heart, wielded by the government as a weapon against other devils.

Though footage of the show is still scarce, a new trailer was released last Friday (above) which shows off both hypnotic detail and lavishly disturbing animated acting. In keeping with the spirit of its source material, the trailer contrasts observational drawings with wild action and the brutal physicality of main character Denji’s transformation into the half-man, half-devil, Chainsaw Man. (Fujimoto himself commented, “There was a lot of blood and I loved it,” in a message shared by his editor Shihei Lin.)

Chainsaw Man is produced by Mappa and directed by Ryu Nakamura, known for his work on Jujutsu Kaisen 0. Some of the Mappa team appeared during a panel at CRX, including CEO and Chainsaw Man producer Manabu Otsuka and Makoto Kimura, executive and rights management director. There, they offered insight into the ideas behind the project. During the panel, the youth of the production team and voice cast were highlighted. Apparently, each was hired or cast to be closer to the age of Fujimoto and bring a similarly fresh perspective.

Describing the look of the show, panelists  explained “rawness” was a priority in order to emulate the frequently realistic tone and drawing style of Fujimoto’s writing and artwork.

“We really wanted to emphasize the authenticity of the picture, the realism in our work,” commented Otsuka. The newest trailer showed off that look – with the aforementioned anatomical detail, photorealistic background art, and cold lighting that firmly situates the insane, bloody drama of Denji’s life working as a devil hunter within a relatively normal world.

While artistic choices feel in line with Fujimoto’s recognizable style from other one-shot mangas like Look Back and Goodbye Eri, it’s hard not to wonder if it might be somewhat limiting for a comic as frequently surreal as Chainsaw Man.  Though, as previously stated, we’ve seen very little of the adaptation footage and what little we have seen does look fantastic. If that level of detail can be maintained, it could be one of the best-looking shows of the year.

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