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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!!!!!!!”
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 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.
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.
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?
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.