By Deanna Nguyen
Of the anime studios that we’ve come to know and love, Progression Animation Works—commonly referred to as P.A.Works—is one that leaves a distinct impression. For 20 years, P.A.Works has produced a broad range that transports us to the past with traces of the supernatural and offers us a snapshot of everyday life.
From the riveting military fantasy Fairy gone to the adaptation of the popular mobile game about theater troupes A3! Season Spring & Summer, the creative endeavors of P.A.Works stretch across different genres. To push their uniqueness as a studio even further, their portfolio consists of original works like Sakura Quest and their newest show, APPARE-RANMAN!
As we explore the eclectic anime that embody P.A.Works, it’s clear that each show tells an impactful story, from a day in the life of working women to an all-out war among Fairy Soldiers. Most times, though, P.A.Works enjoys experimenting with the in-between—the stories that reel fantasy or supernatural elements into the real world in either subtle or outlandish ways.
Angel Beats! (2010)
Oh, Angel Beats!—a show that’s near and dear to many of us and, truthfully, hard to forget. Jun Maeda and Na-Ga know how to tug at our heartstrings, which he achieved with Charlotte, and the impact from Angel Beats! still holds strong. If you haven’t watched it yet, you’re in for an emotional roller coaster that will have you in tears—from laughing and crying.
RELATED: The Isekai Afterlife of Angel Beats!
We labeled Angel Beats! as an isekai, but it’s not so much about transporting to a fantasy world with video game elements (although those elements are relevant in the show). The protagonist, Yuzuru Otonashi, ends up back in high school but soon realizes it’s actually the afterlife. He’s thrown into a war between the Afterlife Battlefront and Angel, with both sides using weapons to intentionally kill each other (though this is somewhat inconsequential).
In a series of comedic highs and traumatic lows, Angel Beats! calls into question not only the meaning of one’s life but how all lives are connected—hearts beating the same rhythm.
Red Data Girl (2013)
P.A.Works sews together supernatural and romance with some quirkiness in Red Data Girl, which is based off of the novel series written by Noriko Ogiwara. When we say supernatural, we mean the kami kind. Raised at a shrine, Izumiko Suzuhara is a 15-year-old high schooler who has the ability to destroy any electronic devices upon touch.
Her guardian encourages her to enroll at a high school in Tokyo where his son, Miyuki Sagara, attends. Izumiko soon discovers that she is a yorimashi, a vessel for kami, and Miyuki, who has trained to become a yamabushi, is tasked with protecting her.
Red Data Girl isn’t outwardly romantic despite being labeled as romance; it quietly follows behind the supernatural plot like a shadow, but the ending is nevertheless rewarding for those who are patient. You can’t help but cheer for Izumiko as she grows into her own character by building up more confidence.
Those who have recovered from Angel Beats! will find their emotions in shambles once more with Charlotte—another one of Jun Maeda and Na-Ga’s collaborative works (both part of the visual novel brand Key). Although it’s tempting to draw comparisons between both shows, Maeda wanted an entirely different staff to work on Charlotte so that it would have its own heartbeat. And it does—replete with a smaller cast and compelling character beats.
The story follows Yuu Otosaka, a high schooler with the superhuman ability to possess other people’s bodies for five seconds. Before he gets carried away with abusing his power, Nao Tomori forces Yuu to transfer to her school where she’s the president of the student council (whose members all have special abilities).
Their objective is to protect ability users from people who want to exploit their powers as well as from harming themselves. Their powers are imperfect, and they’ll need to be harnessed properly or they could fall to villainy…or worse.
Haruchika -Haruta & Chika (2016)
Haruchika takes place in high school like many of P.A.Works’ series, but instead of an isekai afterlife or students with superpowers, it’s about a wind instrument club on the brink of shutting down—with a splash of mystery. Directed by Masakazu Hashimoto, Haruchika opens the curtain on Haruta and Chika, two childhood friends who band (heh) together to recruit new members to the club. In doing so, a mysterious event occurs at their school and allures Haruta and Chika to solve the mystery.
Haruchika is based on the novel written by Sei Hatsuno. Aside from an anime adaptation, a manga and live-action film were also adapted. The anime aired in 2016 and ran for 12 episodes.
Sakura Quest (2017)
The job hunt is filled with uncertainty, and Sakura Quest doesn’t hesitate to showcase this with Yoshino Koharu, who lands a job in Manoyama village with a “Queen” title after failing to find work in Tokyo. As soon as she arrives in Manoyama, she discovers that she was hired based on a mistaken identity and is under a one-year contract instead of one day. The show then delves into the working lives of different women.
Sakura Quest is part of P.A.Works’ “working series” along with Hanasaku Iroha and Shirobako. With 25 episodes, the show paces itself to unravel each character and their backstory, all while running with the theme of “living in change.” With every change comes uncertainty, but sometimes life leads to pleasant surprises, as is the case for Yoshino.
Fairy gone (2019)
If you’re itching for a dark fantasy with a heavy dose of military action, Fairy gone checks off those boxes. The aftermath of the War of Unification left all the nations of Eastald unified under one ruler along with rogue Fairy Soldiers—special soldiers who can summon and command powerful Fairies because of implanted Fairy organs. Criminals have taken advantage of the postwar strife, but a government agency named “Dorothea” fights against these illegal Fairy users.
Directed by Kenichi Suzuki, Fairy gone ran for a split-cour of 24 episodes and encompasses a large cast. The plot and tone of the show are similar to P.A.Works’ other dark fantasy Sirius the Jaeger, but instead of Fairies, the characters are vampires. Action and horror fans with a taste for the supernatural will get their fair share with Fairy gone.
A3! Season Spring & Summer (2020)
For a more light-hearted show with cute boys at the heart of it, A3! Season Spring & Summer may be a familiar title because it originated from the popular mobile game A3!
Izumi Tachibana, who is technically the player insert, scrambles to recruit members for a theater troupe in order to save her father’s company, Mankai Company, from closing down. As its new owner and chief director, Izumi not only trains and learns more about each member but also rediscovers her lost passion for acting.
A3! the mobile game launched in 2017 for Japanese players and received an English release in 2019. Not only has the game received an anime adaptation (that continues this spring!) but also a series of stage plays.
East meets West in APPARE-RANMAN!, where a Japanese engineer and a cowardly samurai find themselves lost in America during the Second Industrial Revolution. In an effort to earn money and return back to Japan, the duo enter a transcontinental race in which the winner will receive a grand prize of one million dollars, granting them a ticket home.
Masakazu Hashimoto is the director and has led other projects under P.A.Works such as the aforementioned Haruchika and Tari Tari. With colorful character designs and a race that will get your adrenaline pumping, APPARE-RANMAN! goes back in time but also sets up a world familiar to us through a Japanese lens. Did we mention that Evan Call, who composed the Violet Evergarden soundtrack, is also composing music for APPARE-RANMAN!?
P.A. Works tickles your anime taste buds in ways that you probably wouldn’t expect. You might expect a cheerful school life anime only for a supernatural curveball to be thrown your way. Or, you’re falling headfirst in a dark fantasy only for the ending to divert your expectations.
Whatever the case, P.A. Works offers something for everyone—with a few surprises.
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