Junichi Sato

Junichi Sato Junichi Sato

MAL | Wiki | IMDB

Junichi Sato is a jolly good man. One of the most prolific directors within the ‘Shoujo’ demographic of anime, Sato has made a career in warming our hearts. A structural master with a skilled touch at balancing comedy, life lessons, friendship, romance, and all things adorable.

The King of Shoujo stands proud, creating wonderful series that sell like hot cakes, but is often overlooked by the Western audience. Sure, everyone knows Sailor Moon, but how many have delved into Tutu, Maple Town or Aria?

Quick pause:

Last week, and in upcoming weeks, I’ll be using the Seinen/Shounen and Josei/Shoujo terms. These are really just classifications of the audience the series is aimed towards. My usage is completely ‘wrong’ but it helps me sort series in my mind. A short hand to separate a series based around mature or real situations, from something with more fantastical or inspirational aims.

For example, Sailor Moon is a Shoujo (friendship, magic, action) and a Magic Girl show. Aria is a Josei (morals, maturity, grounded realism) and is a Slice of Life. This breaks down a bit on shows like Princess Tutu, that balance both of these ideas, but I still like to use them. hopefully you can follow my thought process through these posts and I clarify why a show is great beyond just an artificial genre tag.

Pause Over


A Technical Start

Sato began his career in production on a variety of series. A benifit of being in the Toei studio during the late 70’s and early 80’s. His work was mostly Production focused, with lots of training on Storyboard, framing a scene, and transitions.

During this early time, Sato would be in close contact with a variety of talent featuring TsujiFujikawa, Matsumoto, Aoyama, Nishio, and Nishizawa among others. Creators and artists involved with Galaxy Express 999, Cutie Honey, Mazinger Z, Dragonball Z, Aim for the Ace!, Space Battleship Yamato, Precure, Captain Harlock, and more! These guys were some of the final big names to come from the Golden Age, with talent oozing in every direction.

Sato’s first credit is in Production for Queen Millenia, shout out to the ‘Father of Anime in the West’ Carl Macek, before moving up to Production manager in Patalliro! One of the first series to feature Shounen-ai (Yaoi or Gay) themes on TV in Japan.

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He dabbled in Storyboard and Production in BemuBemu Hunter and Wee Wendy. Both feature a continuation of the relatively young Shoujo Magic Girl genre coming from the ground breaking Cutie Honey anime in the 70’s, from the god-like manga writer Go Nagai. Sato’s later series would have a firm understanding of the Shoujo genre that it came from and both how it worked and how to break it. Other directors would take the demographic into other genres and various directions, but Sato’s focus has maintained the familial and personal struggles central to these shows. Which led to his reputation as ‘the Shoujo director.’

Finally Sato began work for Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, working with Yoshiyuki Tomino (Spotlight in 2 weeks) in one of his greatest Directed series. Presumably Tomino took note of this young Sato, putting him into more Storyboard work, and leading to Sato being Assistant Director on the series Hai Step Jun. This allied him with multiple people who would direct episodes, act as animation director, or script for Sato’s later series like Maple Town and Sailor Moon.


Ikuhara pls!

MAPLE TOWN MONOGATARI

MAPLE TOWN MONOGATARI

Sato’s first credit as Director was on the series Maple Town. An adorable little series that played around with stories and themes while using an Animal based cast. A kind of Japanese version of the West’s Arthur or Franklin the Turtle, the show balances the youthful messages with a layer of maturity. Entertaining for all ages.

Adorable

Adorable

The ever-present Kunihiko Ikuhara would work under Sato as Assistant Director, eventually taking over the series near it’s conclusion and earning his first Director credit. The relationship of co-direction and mentorship continued with Devil Boy, and later Sailor Moon, which would mold Ikuhara’s crisp framing and storyboard work, though Ikuhara eventually went a much different direction.

While Ikuhara finished Maple Town, Devil Boy, and Sailor Moon, Sato went out to make a bunch of other series. Kimama ni Idol was one of the first attempts at major cross-promotion, featuring 3 VA’s who would do Live concerts based on the series. Furious Ataro features heavy slapstick comedy and gags with an adult humor bite that was lacking in the industry, and Goldfish Forecast! is stupidly adorable with some lofty goals and moral questions.


SAILOR MOON

SAILOR MOON

I’ve mentioned before the ‘Pillars of Anime’ that hold the medium up in the West like Dragon Ball Z and Evangelion. They were extremely important to the generations of kids that found anime through them. In that same sense, perhaps Sailor Moon should be known as the ‘Buttress of Anime’.  The most important Magic Girl show in the industry, the touchstone that all Shoujo series must pay respect, and the counterpart of DBZ in the 90’s. Sailor Moon was, and still is, a massive franchise with huge importance.

Based on the manga by Naoko Takeuchi, Codename: Sailor V was a different kind of story from what the anime eventually became. A call back to Cutie Honey action, with some subversive ideas that tested new waters. Takeuchi would use her company, Princess Naoko Planning (PNP), to continue making interesting works and develop new talent. This includes being a mentor and financier of Yoshihiro Togashi during his 2 manga, HunterXHunter and YuYu Hashiko, who could be seen as the Shounen equivalent of Takeuchi.

Sato and Takeuchi would transform the Sailor series to blend the older ‘Shoujo’ series, the Super Sentai genre, and Cutie Honey’s comedic action, which both artists were big fans of.

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Balancing romance, comedy, friendship, and battler action, Sato brought together these wonderful, subtle, and heart warming characters to life in this multi-layered entertainment hit. It was a re-birth of the Shoujo genre and everything afterwards would be changed because of it.

There was some dips in quality, mainly around the periods where Sato and Ikuhara changed hands as director during Sailor Moon S and in R when Ikuhara was trying to rebrand the series into the early idea of Revolutionary Girl Utena, but these are brief stumbles that manage to recover quickly. Some even consider R the best portion of the series.

The show had five seasons, and the studio also developed three feature films, one television special, three short films and a live-action television adaptation titled Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon. There is also light novels, collectible trading card games, action figures, musical theater productions, several collections of soundtracks and a large number of video games. Oh, and Crystal came out recently, but lets forget that happened.


The New Generation

Around this time period, Sato would leave Toei Animation for doing spot work and mingle with other artists. Considered one of the best storyboard and structural directors in anime, Sato would be a coveted person in the industry. He features in a lot of series, and many newer directors mention him as an inspiration. After they mention Miyazaki/Oshii/Kintano ofcourse, because that is the law in Japan.

Fear the Overlords

Fear the Overlords

He would storyboard episode 18 of Cowboy Bebop for Watanabe. The mutual connection with Ikuhara would introduce Sato to Anno, working as storyboard and episode director for episode 4 in Neon Genesis Evangelion, episode 18 of His and Her Circumstances, the film End of Evangelion, and 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance. He would also work as director for episode 34 of Revolutionary Girl Utena, Ikuhara’s banner series and a very important episode in the show.

Sato would make Crayon Kingdom of Dreams as a call back to Wee Wendy and the older generation of Shoujo and help to design the new ‘Moe’ slice of life series. The show had Reiko Yoshida on Series Composition and Script, who would go on to work some big Moe and Slice of Life like Bakuman, K-On, Kaleido Star, Aria, and Non Non Biyori among many others.

Then he would Co-Direct Magical Doremi with Takuya Igarashi, who would go on to make Captain Earth, Ouran Host Club, Soul Eater, and Star Driver. Sato also worked as Animation Director for Kouichi Chigira on his series Gate Keepers, before Chigira went on to make Full Metal Panic and Last Exile (the latter produced with PNP Studio and Sato’s old friend).

Joining the studio Bandai, Sato created his first original series Magic User Club and the film Junkers Come Here! Both are pretty good, but again we can see some big industry names in their infancy learning from Sato. Notably, a previous spotlight director Akiyuki Shinbo in his transitional days, Takuya Sato of Steins;Gate and WIXOSS fame, and Chiaki Konaka who wrote Hellsing, Serieal Experiments Lain, Texhnolyze and The Big O.


Hal Film Maker and the ‘Healer of Anime’

After his brief stint training all these big names in the industry, Sato would gather some of his old Toei co-workers and create the studio Hal Film Maker. The studio would merge with another to create TYO Animation, and it’s been home to Sato ever since.

Opening the studio, Sato would make Strange Dawn and a season of the long running Slayers series, Slayers: Premium. Then he would make his second original work, Pretear, which would take a much darker tone from most of his works. Sato seemed to be losing interest in the magic girl genre, but made one last sha-bang…

PRINCESS TUTU

PRINCESS TUTU

Sato joined his old Sailor Moon animation director, Ikuko Ito, to create the best fairy tale musical since the early days of Disney. Sato has said in an interview that he listens to the song first and makes the storyboard to fit the music, and you can see it in effect here.

The series acts as a kind of mirror to Ikuhara’s Utena series, with each taking the Shoujo stories in different directions. Tutu aimed to maintain that innocence and healing aspect from the early age shoujos, while playing around or mocking certain tropes within it. This would continue into his later series as he moved into a more Slice of Life story line and away from the Sentai/Action series that he was known for.

With an A+ music score, wonderful ballet and stage production, well structured storyboard, and amazing use of a fairy tale setting, Princess Tutu is incomparibly fantastic. Don’t wait, treat yo self!

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Everything Is Amazing

Sato went on a streak directing Kaleido StarSgt. FrogTwin Princess, and Umi Monogatari. His work shifted to this Slice of Life Shoujo genre and took on a very positive, healing nature. The kind of show where you get those warm and fuzzies, maybe help an old person cross the street, and get back into school. Entirely life re-affirming and hopeful. Umi and Kaleido are probably the best of the group, but if you enjoy the genre at all, I’d recommend all of them.

ARIA THE ANIMATION

ARIA THE ANIMATION

Sato would alternate between Tamayura (which is about to air a 4 part movie season to finish the series) and his crown jewel, ARIA. If Sailor Moon is the foundation of Magic Girl shows and based on Sato’s love of the past, then Aria can claim the same for Slice of Life and Sato’s distinctive style. A massive hit both critically and in sales, Aria is the biggest powerhouse anime that no one has heard of in the West. I know there’s a few of you lovers out there, and boy do we love this show.

With small arcs, the series is a chain of masterful episodes to stunning life revelations and back again. The music is profoundly beautiful and simple, with storyboards that work with the songs and plot to make really touching moments. Sato never loses sight of who each character is, and makes even single episode side characters creep into your favorite of all time.

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I hear often that people lament the ‘Moe age’ of anime, or that the medium is dying, all silly concepts. You need look no further than last week’s Omori and his exciting Durarara, or Sato’s wonderful contributions like Aria. Anime is fine you hippos, we have marbulous treats everywhere, start a’ gobblin!


In recent years, Sato has begun to experiment with Action again. Directing Phi Brain and M3: The Dark Metal, he seems driven to return to the characters and message of old Shounen series. Both series have some odd premise and story settings, but they are a really under appreciated return to the Astro Boy and Space Opera era. WIth reliance on characters and solid communication, over spectacle and stupidity.

Cough KpeopjnAhem, sorry bout that.

Also, he produced 2 short OVA series that I’m really hoping get expanded into his next full series. One Off and Amazing Twins each feature this new life lesson and healing attitude of Sato’s design, but feature a return of Adventure that is exciting. I love me some Aria, but it’s limited in how exciting it can go without breaking it’s gentle charm.


Final Thoughts

Junichi Sato has had a long career with many blockbuster series beloved by it’s fans. His style and taste rarely gets the fandom bellowing his greatness in the streets, but don’t miss out on one of the greatest working creators in the business. His shows will make you weep in sadness and joy, without resorting to forced drama or cheap death scenes. The flag waving master of Shoujo and Slice of Life will lead you to the promised land.

Takahiro Omori

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Takahiro Omori

MAL | Wiki | IMDB

A wizard on Storyboards, and a talent at balancing comedy, romance, and large casts, Takahiro Omori has made a career out of making ‘character first’ series. Along with the other upcoming directors, Omori’s work defined the new age of anime series and provided for a booming new market.

Josei/Seinen, a genre tag you’ve probably heard by now, was an emerging demographic of a ‘mature’ male/female audience. With memories of Akira and the Golden Age fresh in their minds, they began to demand more substance from it’s shows. Omori stepped up to fill that role with series that have large memorable casts, and a trust in viewers to keep up with the story,

His first truly big series would come during the height of the mid 2000’s, a decade or more past his start. As with most of these Established Directors, it’s all about their ability to make new genre’s and inspire new idea’s.


The New Era

As the Golden Era of Anime was ending in the 90’s, Omori was just entering the workforce. He began with Studio Perriot, acting as Key Animator for BOAH and Metal Skin Panic MADDOX-01, alongside last week’s director Hideaki Anno. Omori would also animate 2 episodes of Gunbuster for Anno’s first series in the director seat later on.

Omori’s first series was Baby and Me. The show had a great understanding of communicating the character flair and personality, making the connections between them all the stronger. An early example of the style mirrored in Usagi Drop and other like minded series.

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Omori recieved wide recognition for his delivery in Storyboard and his following works would keep this idea of character interaction at the center. Slowly Omori began to design shows that aimed to entertain this new Demographic of Seinen/Josei, with series like Hyper PoliceFancy LalaYoikoWonder Bebil-kun, Power Stone, and Gakuen Alice.

Each features this same large character driven story lines, with Omori expanding his genre types but always with that “character first” philosophy. The added layer of ecchi and action would serve to make his shows distinct from Sato or Asaka, who were also making their marks in anime at the time with Shoujo series and ones that focused more on the dramatic..


Koi Kaze

Koi Kaze

A series based on the ‘Bro-Sis’ relationship that by now has become quite the trope in anime, Omori makes one of the first, and best, versions of this story.

The characters flaws are natural, and the situations come from intent, making the entire thing take on a more serious note. Romance was not a central theme to a lot of Omori’s earlier work, but in Koi it really gets put up front. The whole series takes a sometimes dark and realist look at the characters life, making it heart wrenching and joyful along the way.

This is also when the Storyboard began to take on some real skill in empathetic and emotional design, and the story has crisp delivery. It’s hard to really pick out why it works so well here, but the series is put together beautifully and it’s hard to say bye at the end.


A Shift to Mystery

Omori had made the move from Studio Perriot to Aniplex before making Koi Kaze, and would drive a lot of creative talent to make new works.

ABe Yoshitoshi would write Welcome to the NHK soon after the manga of Koi Kaze began, and Yuusuke Yamamoto would direct the series, after working with Omori on the series Happy Okojo.

So friggin great!

Accept Koi Kaze’s Glory!

Omori worked as an Episode director on Haibane Renmie marking his introduction to Yasayuki Ueda, and their crew of heavy thinkers and thematic scripters at the studio. Ueda was coming off of making Serial Experiments Lain and the studio was freshly fueled by it’s new cash cow, Full Metal Alchemist. So they let Haibane be a big experimental series.

This had a big impact on Omori and he would release his first big deviance from style with Hell Girl. A horror and psychological piece, Omori’s Storyboard skills made the episodic nature of the series work to great effect and his ability to plot out stories was highly regarded.

Brain Base would then scout him out to join their studio. A glorious pairing would be made and some of your favorite series were born.


Baccano!

Baccano!

The Brain Base studio had made some good coin on contract work and was looking to strike it big. Yumi Sato, a no-body at the time, brings forward an idea for a Light Novel adaptation with a difficult multi narrative structure, that required quick and relatable characters. Omori is brought in based on his recent work and reputation for such expertise, and Baccano! is born. A kind of wonderful combination of talent, taking on all comers and making a fantastically ‘western’ series, Yumi Sato would work together with him on every series from then on, Omori’s silent and capable producer that has no MAL page or ANN that I could find…

Beautifully structured, Baccano is often remembered for the interesting multi-thread storyline and entertaining characters. Personally, I find it a joy to watch someone communicate it all so clearly and make it entertaining the whole way through. I expect many a “top 5 best anime ever” opinions on the series, and it earns atleast a seat at the table for many fans.

Later Funimation would invest heavily into dubbing the series, and hired a wide cast of new voices to cover it. This would re-launch the series popularity in a way that few anime’s ever get a chance at, and adds to it’s massive fandom. They make a stand-out dub doesn’t demand the stabbing of ears, and is still one of maybe three I would actually recommend over the original.


DURARARA!

DURARARA!

Following up Baccano’s great success, Omori would adapt another LN from the same author Durarara!! The series kept the same interesting cast variety and weaving story dynamic of the previous show, but with a focus on pop culture and referential humor. This hit a kind of perfect harmony, and Durarara would lock itself as one of the must see anime of recent years with mass appeal. Everyone wanted to be the ‘in guy’ on the references, and the dynamic story left so much to be explored.

Omori decided that the series would require OP’s and ED’s that properly anchored the wild series, and decided to handle them personally. I think the first OP is the best example of Omori’s real talent through his career, showcasing the entertaining structure and character flair that makes him so prolific. Also, the song is pretty dope.

The second season of Durarara!! just finished it’s run, I haven’t seen it yet… so… ya. Good? Bad? Did it ruin the series by answering those questions that didn’t need answering? Let me know what you thought.


A Return to His Roots

Princess Jellyfish

Princess Jellyfish

6 years after Koi Kaze, Omori would deliver one of the best series in the Josei genre and a return to his Studio Perriot days. Princess Jellyfish takes the wonderful and personal stories of earlier works, and combines it with his decade of experience.

Centered on another trope, cross-dressing and NEET-ism, the series uses it to deliver another character driven entertainment fest that makes Baccano and Durarara feel empty in comparison.

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Your Face Right Now

This ‘coming of age’ story is shorter than most, at 11 episodes. Yet the cast will stay with you long after watching, and the moments of the series come from a truly inspiring core. This beautiful romance of sisterhood, with vibrant characters, and a connective family center, It is all brought together by Omori to create a kind of story we don’t get to experience often enough.

I might be gushing a bit, but when a Director’s best series gets overshadowed by series constantly listed in the ‘best evar’ catagory, it’s hard not to be pushy. I guess…

Gif


Omori would then come across a Manga author by the name of Yuki Midorikawa. She had written a group of One-Shot stories that included Hotarubi no Mori e, that would be adapted into Natsume Yuujinchou later. Both series would be directed by Omori, and has been his bread and butter for many years now.

Both the film, and the series, handle Spirits and the supernatural folk tales of Japan. The light and fluffy take on the stories often gets Natsume left out of conversations, but any fan of Mushishi will understand how great these ghost stories can be.

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A fantastic soul-food series that will keep you wanting more.


His latest work, Samurai Flamenco, would be a fantastic homage to his childhood with Kamen Rider and Tokusatsu series, I’ve never really gotten into that history, and the series has had mixed reviews, but fans of the genre praise it quite highly.

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The series begins as a kind of ‘street level hero’ with our MC using weaponized school supplies like a poor Japanese Batman, then drifts into Power Ranger territory, and visits some truly weird places. I didn’t enjoy it very much, never was a fan of the genre, but the characters are great and I loved each and every one of them.

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Shout out to the fantastic Bobduh and his Samurai Flamenco: The Might of Heroes post. If I interested you in the series at all, he’ll knock your socks off.


Final Thoughts

Takahiro Omori’s name will probably not gain wide recognition compared to many on my list, not everyone can be an auteur like Masaaki and Oshii, or create a celeb-like status like Watanabe and Shinbo. Luckily we have our established directors like Omori, who carve out new genres and identities within the industry.

He was far from the first to make serious works framed around characters, but his works helped transition us into this new era of anime and fueled the flames of fandom today. His series create the foundation of anime and sets the bar of quality we come to expect.

I just wrote 2 ending notes that are virtually the same…

Losing my mind

Losing my mind

Hopefully we can expect some new great series as he wraps up his Durarara! and Natsume franchises. Fingers crossed for another female focused series.

Hideaki Anno

Hideaki Anno

Hideaki_Anno_cropped_1_Hideaki_Anno_20141030_2MAL | Wikipedia | IMDB

Hideaki Anno is a pretty interesting guy, and his career is quite unique. The first and most famous “Otaku” icon, Anno holds the conjoined pride and shame of his history.

A passionate fan of the work that came before, his anime is centered around paying homage and subverting the industry standards. Identifying as an auteur and mold breaking director, it seems to be quite the thorn in his side that most fans consider him to be “one of them.”


The Otaku Animator

Anno is a prolific animator, but as I’m not the “Focus on Drawing” guy, I’ll meerly hint at all the great things he has done. Anno likes destruction and explosions, and nearly all his animation involves a heavy use of physics and mechanics. He also took a lot of interest in re-creating moments and updating them to the new animation. A referential enthusiast.

A MAD including a lot of his earlier work really shows off how prolific he was at the physical dynamics involved in his animation.

Anno began his career in an unusual way. Rather than toiling as an animator, storyboard, or script for years, he sprang into running his own studio. Gainax is probably a name you’ve heard, and it’s creation story is relatively well known, but lets begin there.

So Anno was attending Osaka University with Hiroyuki Yamaga and Akai Takami, the co-founders of Gainax, and they really loved the shows they watched. Otakus to the core, Anno used to spend lunch at school posing as Ultraman and Kamen Rider, while dreaming of making his own series. Luckily, the three of them did.

Daicon III

Together they produced this wonderful 8mm film, a call back to Ultraman, Kamen Rider, Tezuka, Godzilla, and the first real “Otaku Culture” moment in anime. It created a massive buzz within the industry, with even the God Tezuka making comment on it missing some of his favorite characters.

Along with this, Anno animated an intro for the film that runs as a basic marathon of referential action. Aliens, X-Fighters, Starship Troopers, Gundam, everything is present. A love note to Sci-Fi.

Renting a studio space and branding under the name “Daicon Films”, the studio Gainax had un-officially been launched, and the first project was a follow up to the series, Daicon IV. These came out in 1983, just as Anno was expelled from University.

He also worked as an animator for Macross, and gained a reputation for some interesting animation at the time. This relationship would continue and Anno would return later to animate special scenes in Macross Plus, on Director Watanabe‘s first major series.

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It’s a good time to talk about him as a Director, as Anno is in line with last weeks Director, Mamoru Oshii. A proponent of visual communication above story, Oshii is perhaps an extreme version of what Anno would like to accomplish in his work. On the flip side, his close ties to Miyazaki and Ikuhara give him inspiration to tell grand stories centered on characters and heavy visual metaphor.


Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli

Anno left Macross just as Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli launched an Ad campeign looking for new animators to help with Nausicaa, their first major film for the studio.

Anno answered the Ad, and under direct tutalige of Miyazaki, he provided some memorable animation. His name was forever etched into the Industry at the end of the Nausicaa however, with this scene from the film.

A fundamentally beautiful and new way of destruction, it feels similar to older “attacks” within anime, but Anno brought it to a new level. He would reference this moment in a scene he animated for NGE.

Anno would later return to animate for Takahata on Ghibli’s Grave of the Fireflies, and act as the star Voice Actor in Miyazaki’s last film The Wind Rises. Studio Ghibli created a branch company to make Live Action films and it’s first release was Anno’s Shiki-Jisu, which I’ll cover later, as well as creating a lot of short films for the Ghibli Studio Museum.

The latest short Anno produced was for an Art exhibit hosted by Ghibli. Giant God Warrior in Tokyo, was directed by Anno and came shortly before his announcement to Direct the new Toho Godzilla franchise, which I think will be amazing!


Gainax

GAINAX STUDIO

GAINAX STUDIO

Anno would continue his animating after Nausicaa with series like Birth, Crystal Triangle, and Dangaiou for a while, but soon his focus would turn to the launching of the Gainax brand and a new era of Mecha shows.

The Wings of Honneamise

The Wings of Honneamise

Written and Directed by the previously mentioned Yamaga, The Wings of Honneamise is secretly one of the most important anime ever. It came out slightly ahead of Akira, and can probably take a lot of the credit in the explosion of anime culture to the West.

The film featured an 8 billion Yen budget for a full length film, the record for an anime film the time, and spread around the world creating the murmurings of anime. Following close on it’s heels was Akira, which blew the doors open, but Wings led the way.

Anno was involved heavily with the series and much like Nausicaa, created another moment of Anime history. His rocket launch sequence is considered his masterpiece of animation.

The series is beautiful and a must watch type of show. As Roger Ebert put it, “a visually sensational two-hour extravaganza”. Not only that, the series planned a full sequel that eventually fell apart but the idea was remade into Neon Genesis Evangelion. Eh? Bet you wanna go watch it now!

GUNBUSTER

GUNBUSTER

Hideaki Anno made his Directorial debut with Gunbuster. Following, and simultaniously breaking, the mold of “Real Robot” and “Super Robot” series, Anno smashed together the ideas of Gundam and Macross, laying out a heavy Space Opera, and a shocking “black and white” finale.

The series left people stunned, and later it would be cited as “prequel” to NGE, making it a cult classic of the OVA era. It probably has some massive importance on the entire Mecha Genre, but I’ve never been a fan (yeah, not even NGE) so feel free to expound on the importance of the series.

I think it’s less a prequel to NGE, and more a forming of Anno’s particular aim and style, but Gunbuster is a fantastic little series either way.

Nadia: Secret of Blue Water

Nadia: Secret of Blue Water

Anno began his next project, Nadia, and it crushed that Otaku spirit that had led him so far. The original idea was created by Miyazaki, and for various reasons the idea was kept by the studio and creator separately. Miyazaki would go on to take the idea and create Castle in the Sky, but after a few drop out directors, the Nadia series landed at Anno’s feet.

Restricted from creative control and competing against his professed “adopted father” Miyazaki in story, Anno went into a depressive state. Eventually stepping down from directing, the final third of the series falls apart with his abscence.

This thing was a massive failure and Gainax had to take on large loans to pay back other companies losses. This was repayed after NGE, but I’ll talk about the series later in the post.


The Ikuhara Factor

As Anno wallowed in despair and crushed otaku dreams, he met the man I dread to cover, Ikuhara. Stop me if I’ve gone a Spotlight without naming this Ikuhara dude. Seriously, could someone be more important to the current generation?

A fellow auteur animator, with a similar passion and view on storytelling, they spent many a night talking. Eventually Ikuhara brought him on to storyboard and animate the Sailor Uranus and Neptune henshin sequences in Ikuhara’s Sailor Moon S, and Anno would begin working on NGE immediatly after.

When Sailor Moon ended, Anno created a booklet from the staff of the Sailor series, thanking Ikuhara for inspiring them and including a personal thanks.

Anno's Dedication to Ikuhara

Anno’s dedication to Ikuhara

They built a great friendship that would influence Anno’s work and life. Later in NGE, Anno would cast the final Angel after Ikuhara and it is believed that Ikuhara’s words are used for the Angel’s speech. Ikuhara would also go on to cite Anno’s help with technical aspects in his later series.


Live Action and post NGE

I can’t exactly tell you that Anno became a fan-boy of Ikuhara’s, but after this friendship started his work became increasingly more Ikuhara like, starting with Kano Kara but continuing into his Live Action film work.

HIS AND HER CIRCUMSTANCES

HIS AND HER CIRCUMSTANCES

Kano Kara was a drastic change of pace, and features a lot of experimental styles. Similar in part to his previous series Nadia, Anno’s new focus and skill notched up the quality of the series for quite a while.

But Anno again left the show part way through. This time due to the Mangaka complaining that the series wasn’t faithful to the original story. The series relied a lot more on the comedy over romance, in opposition to the manga, and Anno’s taste didn’t seem to align with what they wanted.

Kazuya Tsurumaki would pick up the Director reigns, eventually going on to make FLCL, planning TTGL, and launching a lot of new talent in the industry. Tsurumaki would also direct Diebuster, a sequel-slash-20th anniversary celebration of Anno’s Gunbuster OVA series.

Hiroyuki Imaishi also worked on the series establishing his “cut out” style used for Studio Trigger, and he would Co-Direct with Anno on the short Anime Tenchou. Imaishi would also direct episode 1 of Re: Cutie Honey, a 3 part OVA series based on Anno’s Live Action Film.

LOVE & POP

LOVE & POP

Calling back to Anno’s start, Love & Pop is filmed mostly through hand held camera work. Using fish eye lens, layers, unique mounting angles, and aspect distortion, to create a very unique visual story.

Centered around “escorts” of high school girls who accompany older business men, the series takes a very hard look at the characters and motivations involved.

SHIKI-JISU

SHIKI-JISU

Anno then directed a film based on Ayako Fujitani’s novel, possibly based around Fujitani’s experience as a teen living in LA with her father, Steaven “freakin” Segal, during the filming of The Patriot.

The story explores depression and suicide, with Fujitani and independant director Shunji Iwai in the lead acting roles. Anno’s direction is brilliant, with each moment, action, or acting being utterly believable and destructive. You can feel how close each person is to the subject matter, and it is glorious.

CUTIE HONEY

CUTIE HONEY

A mix of heavy fan service and a parody/homage to Go Nagai’s series, this is really entertaining. Long extended bathing suit scenes, wrapped into toketsu style pose fighting, and slathered in semi-ironic humor. Not much else I can say other than to go watch it with some friends and laugh at the silly.

FUNKY FOREST

FUNKY FOREST

Not really Anno’s work, but he worked on a few of the shorts within the film and is led by some of his comedic inspirations. A pretty funny, and very “It’s Japan…..” kind of film, the show goes everywhere.

Here is one of Anno’s sketches, bonus points if you can pick out Anno in the scene “Home room!!!!!!!!”


NEON GENESIS EVANGELLION

NEON GENESIS EVANGELION

Hey, we made it!

So Neon Genesis Evangelion is the show. The first, the best, the ground breaking series, the expectation setter. If you’re between the ages of 10 and 30, this show most likely had a big Impact (heh) on you. One of the pillars of Anime, the show is a must see series if you haven’t yet joined the club.

Revolving a story around the standard Mecha formula, but switching the MC into a ineffectual, scared, and weak boy. Using this twist, Anno explores a wide cast in some of the best character studies to be found. The plot is weaving, dense, twisted, and truly fucked up. A beautiful tapestry is made with each thread meticulously chosen to fit the entire picture in beautiful harmony.

Anno then ended the show in “his” perfect image. He sits upon a thrown of despair, tearing apart the tapestry and story into a tornado of destruction. At the centre of the calamity, much like the Impact, lies true humanity. Dark, depressive, hopeful, but torn between the threads of narative and character, NGE ended by leaving the viewer in a wasteland of story but a claustraphobic prison of emotion.

The Otaku culture that Anno had birthed in the 80’s, now turned on him. Many (including myself) hated seeing that tapestry torn to shreds. Famously, Anno recieved an outpouring of negative feedback, including death threats. This led (or perhaps it was already planned) to a “new” ending more in line with the story.

End of Evangellion

End of Evangelion

End of Evangelion was the attempt to bring the story more in line. Bringing on Junichi Sato, a god of storyboards, helped to layout the story’s ending with better clarity. It still maintained the unique phsycological torture from the series ending, but allowed for a better transition to the story’s true ending.

Anno would add some of the letters he recieved, including the death threat, to the ending as a kind of middle finger to the fandom. While simultaniously offering a buffet of high end animation and expanding upon the interesting thoughts of the series. A slap and a hug at the same time.

YOU ARE (NOT) ALONE

YOU ARE (NOT) ALONE

Creating Studio Khara, Anno would gather artists to re-tell the NGE series. With massive budgets, high end animation, and an expanding/slaughter of the original story, the Rebuild franchise is another slap and tickle exercise.

I’ll point you towards the great DemoD’s reviews and comparison of the series, 1, 2, and 3, if you don’t mind spoilers. He mostly breaks down my thoughts on the series, especially his 2.0 video.

Suffice to say, Anno seems quite un-interested in the series and has left it with Studio Khara to deal with. His direction is quite lacking, and the Rebuilds are a shadow of what NGE was, but pretty animation is pretty animation right?


Final Thoughts

I’m no huge fan of Anno’s work, so there may be less praise than usual. Yet here I am wrapping up, and his spotlight is by far the longest I’ve done so far. In the same way, Anno’s series are good, but the way he’s able to draw more out of you with each story is impressive. 

His taking over Godzilla points towards future Live Action over anime, and I’m okay with that. His love of the explosions, live action series of past, and set design, will probably give us the first good Zilla movie to come out this century! Get hype peeps, and get to watchin NGE.

Mamoru Oshii

This week in Director Spotlight: Mamoru Oshii

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MAL | Wikipedia | IMDB

Mamoru Oshii came into anime with a very different set of standards and expectations compared to many of his peers, seeking to use the camera and setting with much more importance than others. He also is unique in producing more Live Action series compared to anyone else I’ll cover.

Oshii is unique in his own way,but it’s also interesting to see how Live Action plays out with him directing. His work features a lot of digital elements and long drawn out shots that create an oddly muted tone for Action/Sci-Fi Series.

Rather than look at his career in a time-line, I’m going to focus on Anime, Live Action, and his most important pieces.


The Stray Dog of Anime

Oshii’s anime work has central to his focus the idea of always visual presentation over story structure, oh and Basset Hounds are a big thing for him.

Je Taime

Je Taime

His view on the animated medium, is that the visual should be similar to a painting, conveying it’s message visually. Plot, characters, and events should all serve to re-inforce the visuals and questions posed. This creates an interesting paradigm of Oshii’s swapping between working for others, and working for himself.

Most of you will know his name from Ghost in the Shell, which fittingly was one of his major attepts at breaking mold and appealing to the masses. Even then he commented that his use of philosophy caused producers to become frustrated because of sparing use of action scenes. Producers thought more action would generate more money, proven to be true when the Watchowski’s remade GitS into The Matrix.

Matrix vs GitS

Oshii began his career with Tatsunoko Productions, working on Homerun Kanta and Yatterman. Staying mainly as a Storyboard artist, leaving his influences in the background until the move to Studio Perriot.

Working under Hisayuki Toriumi, creator behind Science Ninja Team Gatchaman and Speed Racer, Oshii worked on notably 18 episodes in Wonderful Adventure of Nils, and then becoming Chief Director for Urusei Yatsura.

DALLOS

DALLOS

While managing Urusei Yatsura, Oshii made what is credited as the first OVA series, Dallos. Not the greatest film ever, and I’d probably recommend almost anything else highlighted from Oshii before this. Oshii had not yet figured out his “visual communication” that would make his later series so interesting.

He set off the 80’s run of storytelling that changed the industry, but I’m not sure it’s relevant outside of Industry importance. It was his first director credit, and an experiment, so it is interesting to watch in that light.

Oshii’s first chance at full control without Toriumi looking over his shoulder, was Urusei Yasura Movie 2 and he went wild. Dallos was confusing and slow, but this felt much more restrained and paced. The film took a drastic change in tone and structure from the previous works, and there was a large backlash from the fans. Eventually Oshii remade it into a Live Action called Red Spectacles, which I’ll cover later in the post, and also made the masterpiece Angel’s Egg, which I’ll cover in the last section.

He then joined Toshio Suzuki, the producer of Angels Egg, with Takahata and Miyazaki to help found Studio Ghibli.

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I have mixed sources, some saying that he was involved in making the studio, others saying that he was supposed to direct their first major feature. Either way, the three directors worked together to make a film called *Anchor*, that would die on the table and Oshii left the studio. Suzuki, and Studio Ghibli, would help with production on Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence years later.

There was obvious differences of opinion with Miyazaki and Oshii, one portraying the beauty of nature and the other loving dark urban worlds. Past that, Ghibli Studio has a fanatical devotion to stories first and then “painting” the pictures to tell it. Mamoru Oshii on the other hand clearly states that he thinks the image comes first, story and narrative come second.

Miyazaki’s son Goro commented on how the two would spend hours and days arguing how anime should be made, and what it was made for. Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies was a kind of homage to Oshii’s depressive story themes and *perhaps* a tweak of what Anchor might have been.

PATLABOR

PATLABOR

After the failed Studio Ghibli joint, Oshii created one of the most important series of the era. The series and films are important, mostly entertaining, and a change of pace for most Mecha shows. There is not a whole lot to talk about though. I found the focus on characters, and the physical movements within each moment, to be pretty interesting.

The sequels and specifically it’s 2nd film, Patlabor 2, is where Oshii finally managed to commercially transcribe his ideas. A kind of blueprint for what would become Ghost in the Shell, a balance between the heavy metaphorical stance against societial control and engaging character story lines. This also saw the gathering of Headgear, a group of writers and artists Oshii worked closely with during this time.

Before leaving Studio Perriot, he made Gosenzosama Banbanzai!, a kind of extension of the odd comedy styles used in Patlabor. Akiyuki Shinbo created an homage series to this, which I mentioned in his Spotlight.

THE SKY CRAWLERS

THE SKY CRAWLERS

Oshii’s last anime film takes full advantage of the digital effect team from Ghost in the Shell: Innocence. The film is a somewhat shaky blend of Oshii’s Kerberos Saga, GitS, and Angel’s Egg, with messages and attempts to speak to all areas of thought. Some of it is left un-explored, but the central characters have a strikingly beautiful story. Slow paced, pronged with overlapping and weaving messages, the main story will leave you befuddled mid way through. By the end it wraps these all together in quite a wonderful way, and I highly recommend.


The Live Action Director

Oshii’s influence came mostly from film, unlike the other directors so far, who have all come from anime as an influence mainly. He would go almost daily to the theater with his father, becoming a fan of Andrei Tarkovsky, French New Wave Cinema, and specifically La Jetée that would go on to inspire the film 12 Monkeys.

THE RED SPECTACLES

THE RED SPECTACLES

I mention earlier that Oshii remade Urusei Yasura 2, and this was the result. Dark, filled with Nazi and Steam Punk influence, the series holds no punches. This would be the start of the larger Kerberos Saga, featuring Stray Dogs: Panzer Corps and Jin-Roh as the two prequels.

Oshii was a big political activist in his youth, perhaps inspired by a lot of that French New Wave entertainment from childhood. The Kerberos Saga stands as a kind of flag of defiance for Oshii. The series of films are also important in his direction style, making the films feel very similar to Anime and having an un-real but visceral feel that is hard to compare.

Mamoru Oshii would also produce live action films, scripts, and story plans for a lot of series, some of which he directed.

Open Your Mind | Halo Legends | Fast Food Grifters |

Ani Kuri 15 | Talking Head | Assault Girls | 28 1/2 |  Twilight Q |

Blood: The Last Vampire | Garm Wars: The Last Druid |

AVALON

AVALON

While all his films are interesting, Avalon stands out as truly magnificent. I think this is a good example, but throughout Oshii’s career you can find him creating and developing the best new tech for making digital and cg for film.

Avalon is.. hard to describe. Rotoscoped? Cell animated live action? The visual presentation is un-matched, and I could never tell if it was super interesting or extraordinarily boring. Either way, highly recommend you take a look.

James Cameron stated at one point that Avalon was “the most artistic, beautiful and stylish sci-fi film”, also praised Ghost in the Shell stating it was “the first truly adult animation film to reach a level of literary and visual excellence.” Another nod to Oshii’s devotion to the visual side of the medium.


The Imporant Pieces

Oshii has a pretty decent career of work you can watch. Avalon, Kerberos Saga, Ani Kuri 15, Assault Girls, Sky Crawlers, and Patlabor 2, are all recommended viewing depending on your taste of the day, Ani Kuri in particular if you’re an anime fan, having been the launching point for Satoshi Kon, and many other great artists.

While those are all entertaining, now we get to the *must see* portion of his work.

ANGEL'S EGG

ANGEL’S EGG

Trailer

After a life changing event, which Oshii will not talk about, he left Perriot to go to Studio DEEN and make a crazy OVA. A shout of ambevolence to religion, a crushing inspection of life and meaning, Angel’s Egg might be the worst, or most life changing, thing you’ll see for some time. Oshii apparently lost his religion right before making this, and has stated that even he doesn’t know what the film is about.

Featuring heavy use of water, long panoramic shots, high metaphor, and a dark, depressive world. It communicates through every pixel of the art, and every motion of the camera, barely giving you a ledge to stand upon at the end. His clearest style of direction and tone. Oshii made a masterpiece of inspection with a film about as queit and contemplative as one can be.

I’ve seen people come at it from every angle. A rejection of faith, an insulting jab to christianity, a calling towards god, a finding of one’s faith, it can go anywhere depending on what you bring to the film. Personally, I think Oshii wanted to communicate the lie of a present and worthwile god, but the reality of a power above us.

Find some time to watch it, and let me know what kind of film you watched.

GHOST IN THE SHELL

GHOST IN THE SHELL

Ghost in the Shell | GitS 2.0 | Innocence

I’m going to crunch these films together, because we have all seen them. If you haven’t, realize the error of your ways. Second only to Akira, and before the other series Cowboy Bebop, Evangellion, and Dragonball, as the pillars of anime. GitS is a series that is must see.

The orignal and 2.0 share virtually the same story, with slight edits and an update to the cg and digital effects to match with Innocence, that can also stand alone as a film. Others have done GitS: SAC, Laughing Man, Arise, and the other shared universe stories that can be interesting, and celebrate the genius of the original films.

Based on the Moble Armored Riot Police manga (Part of the Patlabor series), Oshii took a unique view to the work. Seemingly flipping the narrative of his Kerberos Saga, based on the idea of fighting society and being crushed by it. GitS explores the question of merging with this society, technology, and protection vs rebellion. “What is true for the group is also true for the individual” as our main lady would say. Beyond this, the series explores questions of reality, identity, religion, and intelligence.

The Japanese equivalent to Blade Runner, and just as masterful in the delivery. GitS is not only a great film(s), with solid characters, plot, execution, but the film inspired so much of our entertainment today. Ignoring GitS fan fiction series The Matrix, the introduction of Japanese Sci-Fi style had huge implications on almost every Sci-Fi film that came after it.


Final Thoughts

Mamoru Oshii is a visual… visionary. His works are all amazing to see and often you can find some of the most soul touching commentaries. GitS is one of the greatest films of all time and Oshii’s other works can all be put firmly in the “Exceptional” catagory. Not one of his films has ever felt weak, or un-original, and the visual mastery brings a depth to each story that few could ever hope to accomplish with mere words.

Whether it be Anime, Live Action, or this new Digital Live style used in his more recent stuff, Oshii delivers in a way that no one else in the business can.

skycrawler-2

~Monogatari: A Series about Stories

Welcome to the best wide cast, character focused series since Durarara!!

Listed as a Harem, Supernatural, Comedy, many of you could be expected to leave this to the Plan To Watch or Dropped lists without much second thought. You’ve seen harems before, not really your cup of tea right? While this may not change your mind by the end, hopefully you’ll be able to see the many enjoyments Monogatari can bring to the table, and why the fan base is so broad.


A Series about Stories

The beauty of Monogatari is in the “ghost stories” of which it’s based, following standard Japanese folk tales and tuning them into modern day. The specific ghost stories of Crabs, Snails, Monkeys, etc., are all part of the different characters growth, but each has it’s unique study of words and meaning, along side very specific dialog.

Monogatari makes liberal use of director edits

that add to the themes, inspection of language use,

and play with meaning on words that all tie into a larger meta discussion.

Sometimes it also shows a change in narrator, making the entire dialog take on another meaning.

Our main narrative travels through small arcs featuring a Vampire, Crab, Snail, Monkey, Cat, Snake, Pheonix, Bee, and many other side points.

This creates a lovely story about a boy growing up, discovering stories involving girls, while discussing how those stories can be interpreted. While each arc features “fan service” to a varying degree, the story usually twists this to meld with both the MC and the various characters in the arc to find meaning and substance.

This makes way for our meta discussion about stories, how they should go, and the battle between whats true. With our “All Knowing Author”

trying to push their will on the story, fighting against the “Viewer Expectation”

of what the story should be, with the ever present characters and their own ideas.

Speaking of, what was our story again?


Stories Focused on Women

Koyomi Araragi acts as our MC, but his journey always is focused on helping and understanding women. Not an exciting boy, he reads manga, rarely goes out, and has one friend that studies with him.

His life is mostly boring, and it sets the tone for a boy caught up in this world of women that he doesn’t understand. Luckily, during the first arc he is helped and taken under the wing of his mentor.

Que pubesent sexual realization

as he suddenly becomes a boy with a monster inside him. He wrestles with this new passenger and this sudden change in the landscape around women, throughout the series. One of the most interesting lies in this sexual manafestation within him, as at first he is scared of it

and tries to ignore it’s existence,

but soon learns to understand and limit it’s power, while also learning to love this new side of himself.

Each interaction with Shinobu is a multi layered language barrage discussing folk tales, morals, sex, women, weight of power within the relationship, and the perception deception of a narrator. It’s a lot of stuff to try and cover in the breif conversations that they have, luckily Shinobu is a pretty easy going gal.


This sets off a chain reaction, starting with a new woman falling into his life.

She might seem a bit intimidating but this brave woman travels through the story with grace, confidence, and a growing trust.

She has plenty of weight on her shoulders, but she’s no character cut out. Each and every conversation swings in a balance between defensive and aggressive, Tsun and Dere change moment to moment.

This may seem like bad characterization, but it all ties together as we the little moments of pain as she begins to open up and really show those moments of weakness.

In 13 short episodes, she transitions from defensive kuudere, to a real person who found happiness.

Not stopping there, the rest of the show just makes her better and better.


At the same time, Araragi’s only friend begins to unravel.

Spured by multiple issues, she takes on a new attitude that begins to wreak havoc.

Reacting to this new girl in Araragi’s life, she finds herself full of jealousy and attacking him. Fueled by passion, Araragi has to make it clear that she holds no power over his sexual identity and puts a bandage on the relationship.

This leads her take a look at life and go on a personal journey. It comes back again, taking a new form,

but now she is able to rely on her friends to keep her clean, and caught up in some of the other girls stories, she eventually finds a better understanding of self.

She’s not done though, understanding that her journey is just beginning.

Each girl has their own story.

Dealing with past issues of trust,

A need for attention,

Lack of self-worth,

Or finding their own identity…


Koyomi Araragi

The series uses our MC to walk us through the various difficulties one faces when coming of age and tests our personal fetishism.

Life might seem easy with such a fantastic girlfriend, but relationships are not the only challenge one might face. Constantly trying to make sense of this world full of spirits, Araragi uses his words to battle the situations dropped upon him.

He might be a pervert,

but as the series goes on, he matures into the panty dropper he was meant to be.

Araragi has to re-evaluate the relationships he has with these new desires, and hone them to be socially acceptable. Sometimes it’s learning that you need boundries,

to recognize someone’s youth.

That even a pure girl,

can push herself onto you for the wrong reasons, and find struggles she cant escape.

Ex-boyfriends challenge his standing within the story and relevance as the MC.

Other rivals tempt his desire,

and try to destroy him, while facing their moments of weakness.

He finds new battles with his sisters,

before finding a new balance to the relationship, and a better understanding of how to support them.

The story isn’t over yet with Tsukimonogatari recently coming out,

and the upcoming third season will focus a lot more on Araragi’s quest to grow up. We can see this in the first arc already as Araragi’s sex drive is in a powerful battle with this new type of monster, Maturity.

He seems pretty excited about it.


Final Thoughts

What does this all mean? Well that’s for you to discover, but there are many different avenue’s to explore. Not everyone will join us on this journey, but I think we can all appreciate the ride…


If you plan on watching the series, the order of viewing is:

BakeNiseNekoSecond SeasonHanaTsuki

Incase that did not confuse you enough, the Timeline of the story is: (italicized means unaired so far)

*Kizumonogatari* – Neko – Bake – Nise – Second Season – Tsuki – *Third Season* – Hana

Spring Season 2015

Spring Season is beginning, so join me in looking at the people behind all the new shows. No more must we suffer overly condensed snap shots of show pages, updated weekly in a never ending cycle of useless information! No longer will you have to rely on weak genre tags and cover pictures to decide quality!

Shout out to Lupin III, Romantic Comedy SNAFU 2, Nisekoi 2, and Gintama’ for returning series.

Maybe there is someone out there hyped for Duel Masters 11th season so… good for you!?


Hype Train


Kekkai Sensen

MAL

“New York is in a dimention bubble, humans and demons live together, and someone wants that to stop. *Stylish super humans* fight to protect New York from destruction.”

Director Rie Matsumoto made Kyousou Giga

Art Director Shinji Kimura from Tekkon Kinkreet

and Ao no Exorcist Movie.

Animation Director Tekashi Hashimoto. See his 2 MAD’s

Adapting Yasuhiro Nightow’s story (Trigun, Gungrave)

Matsumoto will bring us charasmatic and fluid characters, fighting in glorious detail and causing massive destruction with Hashimoto’s art, back dropped by Kimura’s deep and layered scenery. Nightow has shown some real talent in following a tortured Hero’s Journey. I expect this to be the most interesting of the season.


Ore Monogatari!!

MAL

A romantic comedy with a unique MC. Expect this to be a powerful ride!

Directed by Morio Asaka, the Boss of SoL anime.

Director of Cardcaptor Sakura, Chihayafuru, Chobits, Gunslinger Girl, Nana

Series composer Natsuko Takahashi handled Yuyushiki, Lady Jewelpet, and Tokyo Magnitude

Adapting Kazune Kawahara’s first animation (Tomodachi no Hanashi, Koukou Debut both highly regarded manga series)

Asaka has made a career out of well developed female characters, and it will be interesting to see a romance triangle handled with the girl being an actual person. It looks like it will be quite comedic, but knowing the heart wrenching story of his other works, I’m expecting some Feels.


Arslan Senki

MAL

Arslan’s destiny is to be a ruler, and despite the trials that face him, he must now embark on a journey to reclaim his fallen kingdom.

Directed by Noriyuki Abe

Director of Great Teacher Onizuka, Flame of Recca, Yu Yu Hakusho

Series composition and script Makoto Ueza

Katanagatari, School Days, Danganropa, D-Frag, Akame ga Kill, YuYuYu, Is This a Zombie?


Hype Caboose

These series sit just behind the most interesting series coming out.


Ninja Slayer

MAL

A man seeks revenge against some ninja. That is about it.

Director Akira Amemiya

He made the fantastic, bombastic, low budget thrill ride. Inferno Cop

He is also a dynamic animator:

Trigger Studio… Don’t lose your way?

Dude decides to straight gank some ninja. Amemiya was a lot of the comedic backbone of TTGL, grounding the series more “over the top” comedy throw outs. Trigger is still in it’s infancy, so hopefully budget and time won’t be a huge issue. Expect a satirical, epic pose, ninja joke filled version of Kill la Kill.


Hibike! Euphonium

MAL

A girl joins a Jazz band, meets an old friend as well as new ones. Tea, Music, and Moe begin.

Director Tatsuya Ishihara

One of the *big three* guys at KyoAni. Directed Clannad, Haruhi Suzumiya (series/movie), K-On!, Chuunibyou, and Nichijou among others.

Series composer and script writer Jukki Hanada: Steins;Gate, Yozakura Quartet, many of Ishihara’s works.

These girls play to our hearts and eat cake with tea…wait k-on!?

Yeah, expect a K-on! with band and jazz music. With Hanada on board, I’d expect some heavy drama and conflict later in the series.


Owari no Seraph

MAL

A mysterious virus appeared on Earth which killed every infected human over the age of 13. Now one kid must… fight vampires… to save… people.

Director Daisuke Tokudo first big outting

He worked on a few episodes in Attack on Titan, Tokyo Magnitude, and Guilty Crown

Script writer Hiroshi Seko handled most of Attack on Titan, and parts of Zankyou no Terror.

Adapted from Takaya Kagami’s work. Dark Rabbit and Legend of Legendary Heroes are his other animated series.

Dude in school decides to straight gank some vampire. With Attack on Titan’s extreme use of the extreme, I worry that this might be too over the top.

Action and Fun to be had


Punchline

MAL

Yuuta Iridatsu spirit has been separated from his body. Monogatari without the meta dialog I’d imagine.

Directed by Yutaka Uemura

Second outing as Director, but his previous work has some all star cast

His last work featured Episode Directors and Animators like Yuasa (Everything), Tachikawa (Death Parade), Imaishi (FLCL, TTGL, Trigger Studio), Kobayashi (Beck)

Studio behind Garo, Shingeki no Bahamut, Zankyou no Terror, and Tekyuu

Let the sexy times begin! Based on the studio and previous work, the series may rely on fan service but I expect the story to be quite engaging. Along with Uemura making his first big splash on the scene, this show will probably be a celebration of his imagination. I expect a somewhat surreal journey through fan service town, with characters that have a lot of heart.


Triage X

MAL

Mochizuki General Hospital boasts some of the most well-trained (and well-endowed) nurses in town. Yuuuuuup.

Director Takao Kato
Directed Blue Seed, Upotte!! and To LOVE-Ru

Series composer Katsuhiko Takayama of Mirai Nikki, ef: Tale of Memories, and Aldnoah.Zero

Adapted from Shouji Satou’s work. (High school of the Dead)

A loud, fast paced adventure featuring physics and plot.

Physics

Plot


Senior Studies


Sarusuberi

MAL

The time: 1814. The place: Edo, now known as Tokyo. A story about an Artist and his daughter. Not a lot to say without breaking down the whole story, but it’s a character piece and it will be fantastic.

Directed by Keiichi Hara


The man who directed Colorful, and Crayon Shin-chan.

If you are not already marking this on your calendar, you are no true anime fan. There is not much more to say. Colorful is one of the best films in recent history. Crayon Shin-chan is the launching point of basically every major name in anime of the last 15 years. This will be epic.

Please note that Sarusuberi probably wont actually be available to watch until Fall or later, as smaller movie subs tend to go.


Tamayura

MAL

This is actually a multi-movie finale to Tamayura the original series. Sato is just such a boss, that you should go watch the whole series anyways.

Directed by the incomparable Junichi Sato


Director of such amazing works as Princess Tutu, Phi Brain: Puzzle of God, Umi Monogatari, Kaleido Star, and Aria.


Sophomore Sophistication


Ame-Iro Cocoa

MAL

Aoi’s life gets a lot more hectic, but fun, with a bunch of smexy guys to oogle.

Directed by Tomomi Mochizuki


Worked on Astro Boy 2003, Ranma 1/2. Directed the abysmal Pupa (not his fault), the really great House of Five Leaves

At 2 min per episode, hard to see how this will turn out.


Kyoukai no Rinne

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As a child Sakura Mamiya mysteriously disappeared in the woods behind her grandma’s home. She returned whole and healthy, but since then she has had the power to see ghosts. Now a teenager, she just wishes the ghosts would leave her alone!

Directed by Seiki Sugawara


Director of D-Frag, a surprise comedy hit last year.Also worked on Kids on the Slope and Yozakura Quartet

Rumiko Takahashi is the creator (Inuyasha, Ranma 1/2)


Mikagura Gakuen Kumikyoku

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Girl joins school club, forced to enter battles with other club reps.

Directed by Tarou Iwasaki

Directed the fuzzy warmth of Isshuukan Friends


Girls and Dungeons

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Dungeons and Boobies, the Anime

Directed by Yoshiki Yamakawa

Director for Little Busters, LB:EX, LB: Refrain, Hells.

This is my own made up title, because screw names this long.


Plastic Memories

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Tsukasa’s position is in the Terminal Service Department where their main job is to recover Giftias that are close to their expiration—it is a graveyard department in every sense. To make matters worse, Tsukasa is ordered to work with Isla, a female Giftia who was never given any responsibility other than serving tea to her co-workers.

Directed by Yoshiyuki Fujiwara


Director of GJ-bu, Engaged to the Unidentified

Script writer Hayashi Naotaka who wrote Steins;Gate and Robotic;Notes series.


Re-Kan!

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The story centers around Hibiki Amami, a girl who can see ghosts and other supernatural phenomena in her surroundings. The story follows her daily life with both her friends and the otherworldly.

Directed by Masashi Kudou

Worked on the Combat Butler series, and Directed the last few installments. Animation Director for Bleach, Planetes, Sabagebu!

Slightly less interesting than Kyoukai no Rinne this season, I think.


Freshman Frosh


The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan

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Follow the silent, and un-interesting Nagato, as she competes for relevance as a MC in Haruhi’s world.

Directed by Junichi Wada
Worked on Gosick

Yes it’s Haruhi’s world, but it’s in the boring one. Not holding my breath.


Yamada-kun and the 7 Witches

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Guy body swaps with hot chicks through kissing… Yup

Directed by Seiki Takuno

First time director, but features the script writer Michiko Yokote
Script writer for Genshiken, Mononoke, Tari Tari, Cowboy Bebop, and a lot more.


Houkago no Pleiades

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The story centers around an afterschool club of magical girls who help recover fragments so that an alien from Pleiades can return home.

Directed by Shouji Saeki

Episode Director and Animation for FLCL and TTGL various episodes. Directed Madoka Box and did a 4 OVA Houkago no Pleiades series already that is pretty easy to find.

Looks uber-boring, but I was never a big proponent of the magic girl shows… so tastes may differ.


Denpa Kyoushi

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After graduating college, he became a NEET (Not in Education, Employment, or Training) absorbed in his anime blog. Unable to watch Kagami throw away his life, his sister Suzune gets him to work at the Ichō Academy she attends. The head of the school’s board, Koyomi Hiiragi, assigns Kagami to his new life as a teacher.

Director Masato Satou on his first big run.

Long time Episode Director for Detective Connan.


Shokugeki no Souma

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Souma wants to cook with her father, but he moves to Europe. Souma’s fighting spirit is rekindled by a challenge from Jouichirou which is to survive in an elite culinary school where only 10% of the students graduate. Can Souma survive?

Directed by Yoshitomo Yonetani

A few of you might know him from Betterman, an interesting depressive/crazy show from the late 90’s.
Worked on episodes in The Big O, Planetes, Doremon, and the recent Bokura wa Minna Kawaisou


Show By Rock!

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A bunch of animal referenced women, together they form the band named “Plasmagica,” and aim for the top of the world of music.

Director Ikezoe Takahiro

Second main series, but I do not know Ozma or Slap Up Party.

Machida Touko brings the Script and Composition (Lucky Star, Wake Up Girls, The iDOLM@STER, Chaika)


Gunslinger Stratos

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Gen Urobuchi

Wrote the original scenario for the game.

This is going to be so bad, can’t wait!


That’s all folks! If I missed a series, it is because your taste in anime is shit. No really, I tried to get everything of note, but if there is a show I missed, feel free to mention it in the comments.

Akiyuki Shinbo

This week in Director Spotlight: Akiyuki Shinbo

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Akiyuki Shinbo, maker of your favorite shows like Hidarami Sketch, Madoka Magica, and Monogatari. Unlike last weeks Director Kawajiri, some of you might care this time round! Shinbo is unique in my spotlights thus far. Kawajiri was a Key Artist, Imaishi is a comedic extreme, and so on, but Mr Tilt-a-head? He’s just a commercial and marketing director. The Michael Bay of Anime.

His style is less a real style, more a nostalgia machine turned to 11, and what I might consider his style is actually a business decision to brand a style under his name. It’s all very confusing. All through his career, credit is given under different names, sometimes he isn’t credited till the final ova, other times he gets credit while working on something completely different. The man is an enigma, but constantly known for trumendous work ethic and grand directorial style choices.


The One Man Studio

When I say Shinbo, you say Shaft… chanting continues

So the hard part begins with separating Shinbo as the studio Shaft, and Shinbo as a director. Outside of his later career with a studio being stamped with his name, I call Shinbo a “One Man Studio” because of a prolific work ethic and a tendency to run mutliple series at a time.

His time with Studio Parriot allowed him to work on a wide variety of genre and entertainment. Working on Musashi Samurai Lord, Marude Dameo, Montana Jones, Ninku, Midori no Makibao, and Kaiketsu Zorro, in mostly unit direction and learning from some great directors and animators. Moving onto doing Storyboard, episode direction, and his first touches to directorial work in Galaxy Fraulein Yuna, and Saber Marionette.

Shinbo begins to display his real director style, and full control of storyboard, when he began to work on YuYu Hakusho. Taking over the Dark Tournament arc, turning the character design to be much thinner and making fights more abstract. Most famously Episode 58 shows Shinbo taking on some of his first strides to the style he’s known for. His main animator, Atsushi Wakabayashi, would go on to Naruto and feature a similar attack. (Chidori)

When looking at Shinbo’s work in the director seat, you’ll find that it has very little in common with the Shaft nature of animation. Starting with his first work Metal Fighter Miku, Shinbo shifts more and more towards thin figure, large eye characters as he makes Devil Hunter Youko, Debutaunt Detective Corps, Hurricane Polymar, Starship Girl, and Triangle Heart.

At the same time, Shinbo used a lot of this work to play with the styles of Tezuka, Oshii, Rintaro, Kawajiri, and Dezaki. Taking bits and pieces from each and finding which director flavor works with each show and moment. A marketing test of the best in the business. Quite a bit of his style, I imagine, ended up coming from Ikuhara who was working on Sailor Moon near this time and discussions between them had Shinbo using Dezaki more and more.


Director’s Seat

But wait! Head tilts, overhead shots, split screen, stark lighting, extensive use of dutch angle, and using shots of ears/hands to communicate a character. These are clearly Shinbo’s style right?

Nope. A lot of this style is a continuation of the great Dezaki of MadHouse fame.

At the time of making his first series, Dezaki’s greatest disciple Ikuhara left Sailor Moon and delivered the passion filled Revolutionary Girl Utena.

Which features a lot of the open shot, background focused camera work that Shinbo would adopt as well.

There are moments you can find Shinbo testing heavily into other styles though. Notably Twilight of the Dark Master was a homage to last weeks Director, Kawajiri’s Wicked City, and the B-grade horror films of the 80’s. This was made to be so-bad-its-good and they pretty much nail it.

Tenamonya Voyagers pays homage to Gosenzosama Banbanzai! A widely known celebration of fun done by the amazing Mamoru Oshii. (Who I’ll get to next week…) Oshii was a creative force, and Shinbo at this point in his career has established a similar vibe, if a massively different view on the world. This also marks his collaboration with *Tatsuya Oishi*, who is one of the prime components of “Team Shinbo” when Shaft changes in 2004. I’ll come back to him.


SoulTaker

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This is Shinbo’s major director series. Bakemonogatari if it was a shounen battler, Madoka Magica if it were a romance drama, this series has the structural root of Shaft. I bet they use this as the new employee training meeting. Head tilts, overhead shots, split screen, lighting, dutch angle, abstract shape usage, here it is folks!

The series follows a pretty solid battler story, but it is really impressive and entertaining by the end. Rarely can you find a shounen or mecha series that can blend such a nice set of characters, romance, and action into a bunch of fun. Another bonus is that you already know the characters if you’ve seen Monogatari. Kaiki, Araragi, the whole gang comes back to scream and punch lightning bolts for an exciting thrill ride.

This is probably the best display of the Dezaki style of shots, mixed with Kawajiri’s action pomp, and Oshii’s comedic taste, that makes Shinbo so exciting.


Le Portrait de Petit Cossette

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I’m going to wrap up the Director Chair section, with what I consider Shinbo’s best work. Depending who you talk to it’s a raging middle finger to loli/pedo porn, a screw you to fans who think everything has to be sexual, a commentary on what it means to be a director who adapts series, a undercutting of the value of artistic merit… This thing is everything, but most of all it is Shinbo’s retirement card as a real “director”.

The story follows a boy finding an antique glass with a painting of a girl inside. The art comes to life and the boy falls in love with it. A beautiful romance story, with torturous moments, we follow as Shinbo uses surreal imagery to communicate the questions, the pain, and the *horror* of the creative process from both sides of that glass.

*Shinbo makes his master piece*, heart stopping and beautiful I love this film.

A Portrait of his own beliefs, exploring what it means to be a director, and announcing his decision for the future. Seriously an amazing piece not only in it’s near perfect music and art, but in the multitude of questions and answers one can draw. Famous for quotes about “anime that doesn’t make money is not worthwile” and that “mediocre trumps greatness, so long as your flashy enough.” Shinbo simultaniously slut shames the fandom, and creates the idea to making multiple of the highest selling series of all time.


Shaft and Team Shinbo

Team Shinbo. The true heart of Shaft’s style and popularity, is one of the most important business events to happen in Anime in recent times. Think about how many studios have branded themselves so well. KyoAni’s romcom series, MadHouse action series, Ghibli grand story telling, Sunrise mecha opera, the list of long lasting studios does not go very long but Shaft is firmly sat among them. After his masterful Portrait de Petit Cossette, Shinbo begins to stop making anime and starts designing a studio that eventually joins those studio ranks.


Tsukuyomi: Moon Phase

Shinbo begins by doing a series focused on the moe style that they would design. Oonuma’s digital pastels and polygonic shape design, Oishi’s minimal animation and montage storytelling, and Shinbo’s lavish full lense story telling.

Hiring *Shin Oonuma*, a digital mastermind who used massive cost saving techniques and covered it with style. Use of pastel colors, overhead shots, pillarboxing, pencil sketch inserts, and polygonal light sources, made for stylish and flashy design while keeping animation cheap. We also see the return of *Tatsuya Oishi*, the third piece of the Team. Oishi had a talent with Storyboard, using photo, font, live video, vocal distorion, and a mess of odd design choices. These worked perfectly to allow Shinbo to use all his flashy, animation hog style with Oishi’s minimalist draw use and montage like storytelling to keep series exciting and again, cost efficient.

Together, they designed an animation style that is in-expensive, stylish, exciting, and moldable to almost any story. It also allowed them to extend, and expand, on series that others would find difficult to animate. It makes almost any transition or scene, reach maximum excitement and entertainment.

Making Negima!, Paniponi Dash!, and Hidamari Sketch, they focused on series that sell well that featured strong comedy, moe, and art design. A smashing success compared to the more lack luster moe series of the time, a fresh look at the genre. They use these to fund a bit more experimentation with a ton of series, and they are all pretty entertaining so chose at will…

Sayanara Zetsubou Sensei, Maria Holic, Summer storm, Dance in the vampire Bund, Arakawa Under the Bridge, Yet the Town Moves, Kateni Kaizou, Psychoelectric Girl, Sasami-san@Ganbaranai, Nisekoi, Mekakucity Actors, and Koufuku Graffiti. Most are not important, but entertaining shows.

There is 3 shows that stand out from Shaft and display the difference in the 3 directors-in-one of Team Shinbo.

ef: A Tale of Memories

*Shin Oonuma* focused on ef, and afterwards he left Shaft to create his own studio, Silver Link. They’ve gone on to make Watamote, Fate/kaleid liner Prisma☆Illya, C^3 and Non non Biyori.

Bakemonogatari

*Tatsuya Oishi* is given essentially free reign on the first 13 episode series, and it’s wonderful. It’s hard to credit everything to Oishi, as there is a lot of Isshin’s writing and story, but the whole thing comes out perfectly. After the series, Oishi began to work on the film prequel to the series ^^pls? and kinda drifted away to doing nothing.

Last but certainly not least….


Mahou Shoujo Madoka★Magica

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Shinbo spent his time working with the prolific, best in the business, scenario writer Gen Urobuchi. I said it. ^^fight ^^me Together they designed a series to be a Portrait

of not only the magic girl genre, but of the entire “girls growing up” story style that goes all the way back to his first series Metal Fighter Miku.

If you want to know about the story, it’s meaning, the structure, the art, the music, the character journeys, seriously if you want to know what kind of toilet paper the girls prefer,

it’s all out there for you to find. The show is fantastic, better still if you have seen Ikuhara’s series or other girl centered series in general.

Simply put, Shinbo had found a way to make money and he wanted to show off how great he was at doing it. The fact that it, and Monogatari, crush the sales of virtually every other series ever produced, must give him the largest e-peen this side of Andromeda.


Final Thoughts

Through all the series, Shinbo finds the crunchy center of any genre and bites in. Fans of harems flock to Nisekoi, moe fanatics will mention Hidamari, critics and fan service haters will painfully recommend Monogatari, and everyone wont shut up till you see Madoka Magica.

Akiyuki Shinbo might not be the “best” director, but there are few instances of such a prolific name in anime and few have ever made a studio rise higher in recognition. He is an iconic director who’s name will live on well past his peers.

Yoshiaki Kawajiri

This week in Director Spotlight: Yoshiaki Kawajiri

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Yoshiaki Kawajiri might not be a name you recognize, especially in contrast to last week’s Watanabe, but his work had a massive impact on Anime. A pillar of the second generation of Anime and the change in tone of the 80’s, and a founding member of the studio MadHouse.

Kawajiri joined Masao Maruyama, Osamu Dezaki, and Rintaro in creating MadHouse, each being legends within their respective arts. Kawajiri was the key animator of the group and his action fueled, dark fantasy OVA series fueled interest in the studio from the west. *Possible NSFW pictures ahead*


The Dark Animator

Kawajiri worked in what might be called the “golden age” of anime. Tezuka had created the anime medium, but the second generation of story tellers was on the rise. Kawajiri got in on the action, animating for Tezuka’s Cleopatra. Following this up with work on Future Boy Conan with the Co-Directors Takahata and Miyazaki, seven years before Studio Ghibli would be a thing. He then teamed up with Murayama on Barefoot Gen, and made his first directorial test with Lensman Movie.

Kawajiri left the studio to found MadHouse, animating and directing for Rintaro on Revenge of the Ninja Warrior, and the Phoenix Series. Leading to his first major solo work…


Wicked City

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This shit is weird.

Kawajiri certainly wasn’t the only person doing darker themed anime, but Wicked City stands as a pretty defining moment for the real adult anime that we associate with the time period. A mix of 80’s Hollywood machoism, Japan mythology, and the dark, often sexual themes, created an entirely new industry. Even looking back to the gif linked above, you can see how it influenced works through the decades, like Kon’s Paprika.

The film follows the manliest of men, as his chest hair flutters in the night sky and his gun rips through weaponized human-demon things. For his early series, Kawajiri’s main characters frame a mirror of Hollywood’s shift to muscle and macho men leading the action. The story is quite intense and goes as deep as it can into the darkness.


Demon City Shinjuku

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Stepping up from Wicked City, Kawajiri manages to give much better form to the narrative. The structure of the story, the reliance on shock and sex, and the characters, all become less extreme. A clear improvement, and a shift to more of the sci-fi versus fantasy, probably shows Rintaro’s advice behind the scene’s.


Goku: Midnight Eye

MAL: Goku | MAL: Goku II

This is where the groove really gets found. The characters find the right measure, the story connects well, and the art has reached it’s hight of the 80’s.

Kawajiri uses some very intense shots and dark stories, but his interesting growth is scene in his transition of these stories through the era’s of anime. Growing as a Key Artist, Storyboard, and story structure enthusiast. These first 3 films act as what I call, his “Macho Trilogy”, that let him basically invent these kinds of stories. Once he had made this new genre an expectation, he began to change it into the new era.


Shifting to Series, and the 90’s

Entering the Silver age of anime, all of the production takes a massive step up with computer use. The argument can be made for the lovely hand drawn work of before, but the transition into the 90’s created some of the best examples of technology meeting animation. Kawajiri in particular is impressive, growing as a story teller to match the better ability to make series.

Cyber City Oedo 808

*Dracula in Spaaaaace*. Goku had stepped up production, but I think Cyber City shows how good MadHouse was getting. The animation in this is beautiful, and Kawajiri’s action shots are made more impactful because of the newer, smoother animation of the time. I also think this is when Kawajiri realized that his structure didn’t *have* to be Sci-Fi/Fantasy. His next two entries show that he decides to separate the two, and I think it pays off.


Ninja Scroll

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The big name. If someone says Japan is weird, or anime is creepy, they are probably remembering the time they stumbled across this fantastic series. As much as Akira is a masterpiece in every way imaginable, I imagine Ninja Scroll was the series most people found in the 90’s that brought them to Evangellion. I remember it being everywhere, talked about constantly, and spreading like wildfire among the early days of torrents and Napster.

The story features a kind of perfect melding. Kawajiri’s characters have matured and transformed from pure bravado, into something with a bit more heart. Animation had reached a point where it could fully show off his action,

and he finally removes the odd sci-fi crutch that had held back the previous series. Now Kawajiri can really focus on those folk tale horrors, bloody pathway of success, hero stories. It’s kind of a perfect

I consider this to be Kawajiri’s master piece, finding the right balance of everything he aims to do and acting as a culmination of his previous works. Bringing back Art Director Oga, from Wicked City, and bringing in a bunch of names to animate who would go on to do great things. Three of the animators are Ghibli Art Directors, others go on to make Steins;Gate, Ghost in the Shell, and Texhnolyze among many others. It’s a cavalcade of talent here.


Birdy the Mighty

An interesting shift for Kawajiri. The first series to feature a female lead, the first to follow a magic girl style, and the first to feature any hint of Slice of Life. It works, clearly showing the expansion into series Storyboard, which Kawajiri would also offer to help Sato in Gokusen and Asaka in Chihayafuru.

The OVA’s were made into a full series, Birdy: Decode, which kept the heart of the comedy and energy of the original.


Vampire Hunter D

Another series almost everyone will recognize, and the show that lead to Van Helsing and the resurgence of high action fantasy films in Hollywood. Kawajiri blends this new found comedic talent, along with a growing mastery of Storyboarding, to make another amazing fantasy series. A really great example of his evolving skills, and the turning of the market away from hard OVA’s to more consumable series.

X OVA and X act as a kind of farewell to the golden age of anime and Kawajiri’s series of the 80’s. If your looking for more of that dark 80’s style, it’s a nice option.


If you happen to not be a fan of the old animation style, you suck, but luckily Kawajiri has a pretty great stretch of shorts that have a modern style.

Neo-Tokyo: Running Man

The series features three shorts. Running Man, the second short, is done by Kawajiri. It’s a great example of the Blade Runner and Death Game style films that influenced his 80’s flavor.

Memories: Stink Bomb

Kawajiri working as a Key Animator.

Animatrix: Program

Batman: Gotham Knight’s

Co-Directing The Cockpit, adding key animation to Rintaro’s swan song Metropolis, and being 1st Key Animator for Redline.

Highlander

Kawajiri’s last directorial work reunites him with Hiroshi Hamasaki, one of the new blood animators from Ninja Scroll who would go on to do Steins;Gate, Shigurui: Death Frenzy, TerraFormars, and Texhnolyze. It feels like a wonderful send off, showcasing the skill that Kawajiri honed over the decades and finding a suitable story in the new media world.


Final Thoughts

Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s influence within anime is massive. He doesn’t often get the name recognition of his fellow MadHouse creators, but I find them to be a perfect 4. The high minded Rintaro, directorial flash of Dezaki, and creative composition of Murayama, all sat upon the crisp key animation of Kawajiri. Without his influence we may have never seen someone like Satoshi Kon, who takes great interest in that same supernatural feel. Truly a great artist.

Shinichiro Watanabe

This week in Director Spotlight: Shinichiro Watanabe

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The Dude of Anime

The first big name in our “Odd Duck” section of Directors. Shinishiro Watanabe’s particular oddness comes from his love of music. Other Directors will start with a solid, or explosive, first work and gradually hone into a style. They will leave hints at whats to come in new shots, themes, or a better focus on their skills. Watanabe? Nope, he only makes a series after a particularly good ‘Dude what if…’ moment, and drops the best things ever.

Starting out with Sunrise studio, Watanabe stepped in to be Episode Director on Kikou Ryohei Mellowlink doing 4 episodes. Following this up with stints of episode, script, and storyboard work on series like Obatalian, and Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory. Building some solid credentials at managing passion and energy within a story. This led to his big break through.

Macross Plus, and Macross Plus Movie Edition.

Getting full control in Direction and Storyboard, meeting the in-comparable Yoko Kano, and being supervised by *freaking* Shoji Kawamori. The man who designed Optimus Prime! Now that is a good time.

We can already see exactly what makes Watanabe who he is. Yoko Kano, three main characters of similar design, action paced out through character inspection. This is the framework that he uses for most of his future series, and while it works for the most part, it leaves me longing for a more experimental director.



Cowboy Bebop

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*”Lets mix up two of my favorite childhood things, New York’s suave film style and Spaghetti Western’s tortured hero, and lay it over some sweet jazz. Oh and set in Space so Shoji Kawamori can come design a bad ass Sci-fi world for us.”*

This is the conversation that happened in my head as I watched the iconic series. It establishes Watanabe’s Odd Duck ‘Dude what if…’ style of series. He is a man who will take an idea and mold it into something amazing, but the small details never quite fill in. This, in essence is Watanabe to me, The Cool Dude. The characters are cool, the idea is cool, the music is cool, the details are left to the imagination.

With his solid Storyboard and great musical companion, Watanabe makes a series that perfectly grabs the Western style and gives it that Anime touch. The lead character is our cowboy with a past, featuring a solid cast made to have some great synergy and charismatic interactions. The story is fun, action packed, and has just the right amount of character history to make it feel like more than a usual series. This was a Universe you wanted in on.

Even though is Watanabe’s first main solo work, his love of music and use of it to carry a story is already in full effect. Music has always been a central point to what Watanabe makes, and perhaps this speaks to his directing as well. Merging genre’s and styles of music seems to be key to his inspiration and I wouldn’t be surprised if it were music that came before the anime in most cases.

Cowboy Bebop: Knockin on Heaven’s Door

On top of Bebop’s amazing main series run, Watanabe extended an idea and made one of the best, single story, action films in anime.

Watanabe spent some time fooling around with making a Live action version of Cowboy Bebop, eventually going no where. In the mean time though, he joined with many other great artists in the anthology, The Animatrix, making 2 shorts for the series.

Kids Story

Detective Story 

Detective Story video

They go so well together, one showing the blurry passion of a youth in panic, the other a crisp and wise story of a man with age. The Animatrix is a kind of “who’s who” of the best in the business at the time, and Watanabe comes in with two great pieces.

After the work oversea’s, Watanabe stepped in to handle the music for Masaaki Yuasa’s first big feature, *Mind Game*. I think the work inspired him quite a bit, and he brought back Yuasa to do an episode on the next big series.



Samurai Champloo

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*”Lets do our own version of Samurai Cinema from the 40, mix in the late 60’s comedic Samurai TV shows, and smash it all into a modern hip hop style.”*

Though often overlooked compared to Cowboy Bebop, this series finds that perfect mesh of culture that makes both great. Our cultural touchstone of Star Wars and the western hero’s journey makes Bebop very appealing. On the flip side, Japan’s cultural identity with samurai and their long film history in the genre, is shown beautifully in Champloo.

We’re treated to a nice cast of characters with solid histories, good characterization and great charisma together. The action is some of the best sword play and movement I’ve encountered, the other note-able example being Sword of the Stranger. The journey they take is of a relaxed structure, allowing for small adventures and at times separation. This all follows the structure of Japan’s Chanbera history of slow paced, introspective films, and the fights call back to the great Samurai Film era’s of the 40’s and 50’s.

Watanabe lands another amazing series, one perhaps surpassing Bebop for many Japanese fans, and solidifies his aesthetic of story. At this point though, I find that Watanabe’s inspiration hit a wall. His next series was his first un-original story, following that with somewhat rehashed idea’s. Maybe because Watanabe was never a really big mangaka, nor an animator, and his background comes from a love of music and the world around him.


From this point on, I actually tend to consider Sayo Yamamoto the spirit of Watanabe’s career. She worked on Champloo, and many other series, with Watanabe and carries on his style. Storyboard for Death Note, making the fantastic Michiko to Hatchin, and Lupin the Third: Fujiko. Yamamoto continue’s this path of a director that I thought Watanabe should follow, even making series that *feel* like he is at the helm. She’s moved on to mainly OP/ED work, animation direction, and storyboards, but hopefully she’ll return with a new series soon.

Watanabe on the other hand, worked for a bit trying to find his next big inspiration, doing some side work on Eureka Seven and Noein. As well as handling music for Michiko to Hatchin and Lupin the Third, perhaps wanting to have a more relaxed work load, perhaps just enjoying being able to work with Yamamoto and Yuasa again.

Eventually he did another anthology series, Genius Party, making the short *Baby Blue.* In it, you can see aspects of the work that will eventually become *Terror in Resonance*. I highly recommend the whole party as each short is amazing in it’s own right.



Kids on the Slope

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*”Lets make Jazz the Animation!”*

Perhaps refreshed from the new anthology, or hyped on Jazz from Mitchiko to Hatchin, Watanabe returned after 8 years to make another series. This time he looks to a Manga series, which limited his ability to change the story, but the end suffers a bit due to him skipping over what he thought unimportant.

The direction is fun, but Watanabe has never had the best grasp of a complete character. In Kids on the Slope, we follow a semi-standard high school romance that is entertaining, but fails to meet the mark in many areas. In Watanabe’s other series, we never enter a story that expects us to understand the characters, usually leaving the details murky and focusing on just a portion of their journey. This is felt prominently here, with some characters feeling odd at times, and emotional moments not landing with that same overwhelming sense of his other works. A slight miss overall.

Do not think this means the series is a failure mind you, this series is great! Watanabe loves jazz, and the whole series jams with him. You can *feel* how much fun he is having. The music, the jam sessions.

The best Bromance ever, Watanabe is having a ball!


Terror in Resonance and Space Dandy

*”I got nothing”*

This might seem harsh, especially because both of these series are pretty good. Watanabe just seems to be lacking a truly inspiring idea. Terror re-visits the ideas and themes from Animatrix and Genius Party, while Space Dandy is set in the Cowboy Bebop universe. Instead of dedicating himself to a grand new series, he uses this time to work with other artists and make his own anthology series.

Terror in Tokyo features a lot of what makes Watanabe great. A solid mystery aspect, characters with solid chemistry and interesting histories, good story structure, and a solid moral question. Perhaps due to working on both this and developing Space Dandy at the same time, the series sees the return of weak character understanding, and the story ends up feeling muddled at times, especially near the end. Watanabe cares not for details though, he knows how to make characters with chemistry and knows how to make a scene.

Like his previous series, Kids, Watanabe’s series fall short of a truly great series.

Space Dandy on the other hand is Watanabe’s personal anthology, bringing in all his favorite artists and letting them go wild with the Bebop style. Each episode features a different Episode, Script, Storyboard, Music, and Animation Director, brought in to explore little stories and show off their skills.

Ultimately I think both series are entertaining, and can hold their own as a blockbuster for the season they air. Watanabe just can’t seem to reach that next level of genre mixture and story that started his career.


Final Thoughts
Watanabe is a man of vision, with a skilled touch at melding story, music, theme, and entertainment. Though I only consider 3 series to truly be his work, each one stands as an iconic work within their genre. Hopefully we can look forward to another series from him in the near future, with a bit more focus.

Hiroyuki Imaishi

This week in Director Spotlight: Hiroyuki Imaishi

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The last of our “Newbie” section of Director Spotlights, and fittingly the one riding the largest hype. Hiroyuki Imaishi’s career, much like his animation, has skyrocketed to a name recognition that few get to experience. Beginning his career on the largest anime of the 90’s, NGE, following it up with a distinct classic, FLCL, and launching a revolutionary first series in TTGL. His studio, Trigger, gained brand name recognition before airing the first series and managed to dominate views and discussion among the fandom. Few people will have such a spotlighted rise to prominence as Imaishi.


The Action Comedy Star

Starting as an in-between animator, and moving to key animation, for Neon Genesis Evangelion under the direction of the fantastic studio Gainax and Director Anno. Joining the last great series of the “80’s OVA” generation and gritty dark styles of that era, Imaishi made a name for himself as a scene chewing animator with some visually comedic talents.

This got him noticed and soon was asked to join the fantastic Lupin III series. Working on Lupin III: Walther P-38, Lupin III: Tokyo Crises, Lupin III: Alcatraz Connection, and Lupin III: Operation Return the Treasure, gave Imaishi the chance to flex some of these skills in comedy. Extending scene cuts, expanding camera scope, breaking through scene barriers, all of these skills now signature to his style were tested here. Eventually leading to scenes like this one from Redline.

His and Her Circumstances

Hideaki Anno’s return from NGE, and the man was in a bit of a somber and dark place. Imaishi was brought in, based on their relationship from NGE and some impressive Lupin work, to direct and layout a few of the episodes. Notably episode 19 in particular is one of the first uses of Imaishi’s “Paper cut out” style that becomes quite prevalent in his solo works.

Directing a short with Anno around this time, Imaishi made Anime Tenchou. 

Fooly Cooly, FLCL

Brought together some of the great names of the era. With Imaishi acting as Storyboard, Animation Director, and Key Animator for portions of the series, as well as doing episode 5 as a solo Director. Taking parts of Anno’s referential, homage based storytelling and talent for having messages laid within the art. Learning from Yuasa and the surreal, rule breaking use of screen space. Making this all his own, Imaishi cemented himself as an up and coming icon, from the school of Anno, and Yuasa, style.

Imaishi followed this up with work on Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, with an all star cast of directors and animators. Watanabe, Yuasa, Yamamoto, and many others. By this time, Imaishi had established his style and was able to show off his work in Lupin.



Dead Leaves

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Following Yuasa’s Mind Game idea of over indulgence and unhinged enthusiasm, Imaishi brings out all the insanity for his first OVA. Injecting a cavalier shot style

with slapstick humor

and ignoring standard framing transitions.

The story follows two characters with memory loss as they smash, steal, and shoot their way through the world. The entire story is wild, attempting to attack your expectations, and acts as a sort of ending rejection of the gritty 80’s and 90’s anime trends. No more would the GitS, NGE, and Jin-Roh’s rule, as the era of referential, slapstick and brightly animated series enters.

While Imaishi wasn’t the only person trying to change the dynamic of the industry series, but his western influenced action and over the top sexual comedy was one of the sparks to begin the explosion.



Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann

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If NGE marked the death of the gritty older era of anime, TTGL is the birth of the new one. Coming off of the first episode of Re: Cutie Honey, Imaishi built a relationship with his now long time writer, Kazuki Nakashima, to create a sort of magical connection. Imaishi’s love of 70’s Mecha, western comedy, and aggressive story structure, merged perfectly with Nakashima’s love of stage plays, Go Nagai, Ken Ishikawa, and Space Opera’s.

The story begins with humans living underground, and eventually leads to epic space battles where entire galaxies are destroyed by a swing of the arm, and the action is always to the extreme.

The series is not a masterpiece, I don’t think Imaishi has earned that title yet, but it is a perfect merging of everything needed at that time. The return to 70’s era Mecha anime with it’s lighter inspection of characters and larger metaphorical meanings, while updating it to the newer generation’s love of referential humor and over the top action. It is no masterpiece, but an iconic series to be remembered.

Speaking to that, the Gainax standard these days is the converting of the series into film with TTGL: Gurren-hen and TTGL: Lagann-hen. Both offer this same level of direction and writing, but are rarely mentioned due to times shifting, unlike the constantly discussed NGE Rebuilds or the ever popular Ghost in the Shell series. The original TTGL is still a perfect meld of everything it needed, and is a timeless entertainment, but the formula is specific and will be hard to repeat.



Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt

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Power Puff Girls, Samurai Jack, and Dexter’s Laboratory, iconic series in western animation that essentially created the Cartoon Network and the like. Panty & Stalking is a send up to these great series, and their creator Genndy Tartakovsky. With a touch of the Blaxploitation styles of Black Dynamite, Imaishi offers his own entry into this great genre.

One of my favorite things in anime, is when a creator uses a series with simple narrative to expound his love of fellow artists. With over 20 different directors, script, storyboard, and key animators, the series launched a massive number of collaborations including Teekyu, Black Rock Shooter, Yozakura Quartet, and led to the creation of Studio Trigger under Imaishi.



Kill la Kill

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Don’t lose your way! Someone should have told Imaishi this.

One of the difficult parts of doing spotlights on Directors is that you have to usually leave out the many collaborators that work with them. In Kill la Kill, you can really feel the missing components.

Masahiko Ootsuka was the episode director that guided Imaishi through NGE, TTGL, P&S, and even His and Her Circumstances. His touch of humanity and heart, that made the characters of TTGL stay in our memory is really lacking. You can find him working that magic on a different Trigger series, Inou-Battle.

Akira Amemiya’s Animation Direction gave the humor in TTGL a touching aspect, ala Louis CK, and his cohesion of comedy timing can be found in the entertaining Inferno Cop, or the upcoming Ninja Slayer.

Being the first major series from Trigger, the eyes seemed to big for the wallet. With massive production issues, a mid season re-write, and a general lack of cohesion, Kill la Kill makes it clear that the magic of TTGL is not going to be repeated easily. The story hints at what could have been.

That does not mean the series is a complete failure though. Even with these missing components, the series still has some highly entertaining parts, and has the same bone structure that made TTGL great. Paying homage to Osamu Dezaki, Kunihiko Ikuhara, and the battle shounen/shoujo genre’s, Imaishi again finds that heart of the old series.


Final Thoughts

Hiroyuki Imaishi is a unique director who seems driven to make series that scream to his soul, apparently ripping up scripts and yelling “I can’t drill to the heavens with this!” Making these very detailed, multi-layered metaphorical series to pay homage and change the dynamic of the genres that he loves. I’m not sure we will ever see another TTGL iconic series from him, but I think every chance he takes will be to the extreme.