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.
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 Police, Fancy Lala, Yoiko, Wonder 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..
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
Hopefully we can expect some new great series as he wraps up his Durarara! and Natsume franchises. Fingers crossed for another female focused series.