It’s been a bumpy few weeks for Netflix, which announced a major subscriber loss on 20th April – its first in a decade – along with a substantial drop in stock value. The streaming giant’s saving grace, however, might already be right under our noses. That’s right: Netflix is doubling down on releasing anime content this year, with a slate of 40 new and returning titles announced in 2022 – the fruits of an industry that has thrived in recent years, especially when live-action filmmaking was put on hold during the pandemic.
This news came via the AnimeJapan 2022 convention in Tokyo on 28th March. “Interest in anime has grown worldwide,” said Kohei Obara, Netflix’s director of Anime Creative. “We want to continue growing our members’ discovery and love for anime, both in Japan and around the world with this next chapter.”
The forthcoming treasure trove certainly looks like a promising statement of intent. Don’t know where to start? Check out THE FACE’s list of titles to look out for on the platform (now and in the near future) below.
Seasons one and two streaming now
Forget Iron Man, 2022 is all about Japan’s mighty, metal-clad icon: Ultraman.
The 20,000-year-old alien superhero from the galaxy of Light is one of the most beloved screen icons in Japan, with his red and silver costume, bug eyes and glowing blue chest orb. But while Ultraman has previously appeared in everything from ‘60s sci-fi series UltraQ to countless live-action films, Netflix’s CGI-anime series might be one of the best entry points to the long-running franchise for international audiences.
Season two, which has just arrived on the platform, sees the latest incarnation of Ultraman’s character team up with five powerful allies. As the world is plunged into chaos in the aftermath of a mysterious “Disappearing Incident”, which has caused much of the global population to seemingly vanish, an alien force known as Dark Star and new antagonist Pedanto present a terrifying threat.
Now is a great time to get into this major Japanese franchise. Live-action feature film Shin Ultraman, helmed by Neon Genesis Evangelion creator Hideaki Anno and Shin Godzilla co-director Shinji Higuchi, hits cinemas in Japan in just a few short weeks – a move that will kick off Toho’s MCU-style ‘Monsters Universe’. In other words, Ultraman vs. Godzilla may be just around the corner… You heard it here first.
Ghost In The Shell: SAC_2045
Season two streaming from 23rd May
Speaking of classic franchises, Ghost In The Shell is also making a return to Netflix this month, with the second season of CGI-anime series SAC_2045 sending prosthetic cyborg mercenary Motoko Kusanagi and Public Security Section 9 to tackle the latest wave of cyber-brain crime.
For those unfamiliar, Ghost In The Shell is an archetypal franchise in Japanese cyberpunk fiction (alongside dystopian techno-biker classic Akira and the junkyard metamorphosis art film Tetsuo: Iron Man). Mamoru Oshii’s original 1995 anime version was, alongside William Gibson’s cyberpunk novel Neuromancer, a major influence on the narrative and aesthetic of classic science fiction films like The Matrix. While the first series of SAC_2045 wasn’t nearly as impactful, themes of techno-paranoia, neo-noir detective work and dystopian near-future universes all endure as points of fascination as the never-ending cyber-war rages on.
Thermae Romae Novae
If the dystopian near-future isn’t for you, then perhaps the ancient Roman Empire might be more comfortable. New to Netflix is the comedy anime show Thermae Romae Novae, which adapts and continues the original manga series created by Mari Yamazaki.
Thermae Romae Novae tells the story of an ancient Roman named Lucius Modestus who discovers a hidden tunnel beneath a spa that leads him to a bathhouse in present-day Japan. Dubbed a “bath-time travel-comedy” by Netflix, the narrative observes a young architect who brings a wave of innovations from the future to create his own spa in the past. Of course, much of this modern technology goes over Lucius’ head, which leads to a pile of problems when it comes to things like, er, flushing toilets.
The traditional animation is stunning in the new series, as the cultures of ancient Rome, the Edo period and contemporary Japan are each brought to life in fantastic detail. But there’s a curveball at the end of each episode thrown in for a bit of extra charm, including a live-action section with manga creator Mari Yamazki exploring the different Japanese hot springs that inspired her work.
Streaming later this year
An image that stood out in Netflix’s announcement montage at Anime Japan 2022 was one of a block of flats gracefully gliding through a deep blue ocean. Expert deduction suggests that this is a sneak peak from the forthcoming Drifting Home, the new anime feature film from Studio Colorido (creators of A Whisker Away and Japanese Academy Film Prize nominee Penguin Highway), which does exactly what it says on the tin.
One summer, while playing in a large apartment building scheduled for demolition, protagonists Kosuke and Natsume find themselves caught in the midst of a strange phenomenon. They lose consciousness, before waking up to find themselves floating through the ocean aboard the very same public housing complex. With an enchanting visual style built on countryside vistas and rich colours, this fantasy voyage promises to be a whimsical treat when it’s released later this year.
Vampire in the Garden
Streaming from 16th May
Vampires already reclaimed their formidable cool on Netflix via the folkloric aswang of 2021 detective procedural Trese – Netflix’s first Filipino animated series. But Vampire in the Garden looks to crank things up even further in 2022, with bloodsucking royals, machine gun warfare and a striking blue-green colour scheme elevating this brand new anime series to an even loftier realm of fantasy.
The premise, which bears resemblance to cult 2003 anime series Wolf’s Rain, centres around humanity’s losing battle with vampires at the height of a fierce winter. Shielding behind a wall of light in one of the last surviving towns, protagonist Momo yearns for a life in which both sides can live together. After she and vampire queen Fine cross paths at the height of battle, the duo embark on a quest to discover a legendary ‘Paradise’ where vampires and humans can coexist in harmony.
This new production is the latest work of Wit Studio – the Japanese animation studio behind the wildly popular dark fantasy anime Attack on Titan and the forthcoming animated romance feature Bubble. The latter, which premiered at Berlin Film Festival in February, looks to be another highlight of Netflix’s 2022 anime slate.
Rilakkuma's Theme Park Adventure
Streaming later in this year
On top of taking us on a family-friendly adventure, the latest incarnation of the Rilakkuma franchise also boasts some of the most impressive visuals of Netflix’s entire 2022 anime offering. The new series, which is a follow-up to 2019’s Rilakkuma and Kaoru, depicts a fanciful day out to an amusement park on the brink of closure. There are anamorphic animals involved, including a majorly chilled bear after whom the series is titled (his name is a portmanteau of the characters for “relax” and “bear” in Japanese) and his friends, better known as mischievous white bear Korilakkuma and yellow pet bird Kiiroitori.
The new series’ stop-motion visuals are built on felt-fuzzy character models in endearing kawaii style. (Since Rilakkuma first appeared in 2003, he’s become a hugely popular figure inspiring plushies, kitchenware, stationery and even real-life cafés. In 2020, character merchandise reportedly totalled over $10 billion in sales). If the Rilakkuma style looks familiar, there’s a reason for that – visual inspiration was taken from Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox and Isle of Dogs, according to series director Masahito Kobayashi.