Hayao Miyazaki

Miyazaki

Hayao Miyazaki

Studio Ghibli Pt 1

MAL | Wiki | IMDB

Part 1 will cover up to 1996, next week will begin with Princess Mononoke.

Hayao Miyazaki is no mystery, and by far the most well known director to come out of Japan. Each of us has experienced the first amazing film of his that was filled with brilliance. With a career that began in 1962, Miyazaki has spent over 50 years bringing us the best stories anime has to offer.

From Horus to Wind Rises, Miyazaki’s films have a personal empowerment focus with wide commentary on nature, industry, politics, and war. His water paint style animation leads into a very ‘humanistic’ appeal and captures the movement of the characters in beautiful form. This adds to his central focus of finding the joy in both the world and each other, while avoiding the dichotomy of pure good or evil. A Master Director and gifted story teller.


Early Life

Miyazaki would attend Gakushuin University. With the former Prime Minister as a classmate, alumni like Yoko Ono, and the official school of the Royal family, it was a prestigious place to attend and one of the most respected schools in the country.

Hayao Miyazaki’s family ran Miyazaki Airplane, and his father’s business made parts built for the ‘Kamikaze’ planes in the Pacific battles of WW2. This influence of flight would show through most of Miyazaki’s career, with flight and politics at the center of a lot of his films. Notably, Miyazaki’s last film The Wind Rises, is based on the designer of the planes his father worked on, Jiro Hirokoshi.

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Producing Death and Artistic Genius since 1940

During his school years, Miyazaki was a big fan of Tezuka and the surge of manga at the time. While making his own manga Miyazaki watched one of the first anime, Great White Snake, and was inspired by its clear break from the Tezuka style of show and character. He ripped up his previous manga and set to design his own style of story, characters, and art. Miyazaki credits Tezuka as a major influence early on, but he would complain about Tezuka’s influence in anime production in later years saying that it was made to cheap.

“Without Tezuka, the industry might have started two or three years later. And then I could have relaxed a bit and spent a little longer working in the field of feature animation, using more traditional techniques. But that’s all irrelevant now”

— Hayao Miyazaki

Miyazaki’s influences began to take a more international tone to feature Lewis Carroll, Diana Wynne Jones, and Jean Giraud. Diana Jones’ novel Howl’s Moving Castle would be a later Ghibli film and Jean Giraud named his daughter, Nausicaa, after the main character of Miyazaki’s film. Giraud and Miyazaki would also host a co-artist exibit in 2004-2005.

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Miyazaki also did the cover art and afterword for some of the works for Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and loved any story by Hans Christian Andersen. Studio Ghibli, and Miyazaki’s son Goro, would also make EarthSea after nearly 40 years of attempting to get the rights to make it from  Ursula K. Le Guin.


Animation Influences

During his early years fresh out of school, his major influences in the animation medium were Snow Queen and Mr Wonderbird.

Snedronningen (Snow Queen) is proof of how much love can be invested in the act of making drawings move, and how much the movement of drawings can be sublimated into the process of acting. It proves that when it comes to depicting simple yet strong, powerful, piercing emotions in an earnest and pure fashion, animation can fully hold its own with the best of what other media genres can offer, moving us powerfully.

— Hayao Miyazaki

Lev Atamanov‘s film The Snow Queen.

Paul Grimault‘s The Curious Adventures of Mr Wonderbird.


Around the time of Studio Ghibli’s founding, Miyazaki would also mention Crac and Hedgehog in the Fog as his favorite animated films.

“The first film that I saw was Crac! Isao Takahata. . . and I saw it on a double bill. . . It was a shock to both of us. As we trudged home, I remember saying to Takahata-san: ‘So, I guess we are failures, aren’t we. . .’

… We’ve found drawing plants to be very difficult…. But Back has taken this problem head on and mastered it. . . His imagery is beautiful. I was moved when I watched this film. In the same way that I feel about Yuri Norstein.” 

— Hayao Miyazaki

Canadian Frédéric Back‘s Crac and The Man Who Planted Trees.

Russian animator Yuri Norstein‘s Hedgehog in the Fog. .


Toei Animation and the first Ghibli film

In 1963, Miyazaki got his first job, at the studio Toei Animation, doing in-between work. Eventually moving to key artist, script, and story, he would become more involved as time went on and became head of Toei’s Labor Union.

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His credits include:

Ken the Wolf Boy | Doggie March | Gulliver’s Travel Beyond the Moon |

Flying Phantom Ship | Animal Treasure Island | Alibaba and the 40 Thieves |

Muumin | Puss In Boots | Manga People of the Desert |

Miyazaki would also make a Manga for Puss in Boots, and a Manga art book for Animal Treasure Island. Puss In Boots would go on to many sequels and become the mascot of Toei Animation.


HORUS: PRINCE OF THE SUN

HORUS: PRINCE OF THE SUN

Horus is one of the most important anime ever for a variety of reasons. Animage has listed it as third best anime production of all time, though they are pretty bias to anything Ghibli releated being part owners of the studio.

The film is credited with being the first ‘mature anime’ that featured social commentary and themes, and broke the ‘Disney model’ of stories. It did poorly on initial launch, but has since been pointed as the turning point for the industry. Horus opened the doors for artists to break out into more character serious series and the eventual new studio model that began with MadHouse, Sunrise and others breaking away from the Tezuka/Toei dominance. The Golden Age of anime began right here in some respects.

Miyazaki’s first step up into animation and story, along with Takahata’s first directorial work, makes it the first example of the Ghibli duo. Also the film featured the revolutionary animator Yasuo Ōtsuka, one of Miyazaki’s early inspirations and maker of Great White Snake. Ōtsuka’s ‘battle with the fish’ scene is the formula that Miyazaki would copy for future action scenes in the Ghibli films.


The Ghibi Duo, Miyazaki and Takahata

The Ghibli Duo would leave Toei Animation in 1971 and begin their life long creative bond. Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata had a shared interest in the fables of Europe and series with a political or social commentary, and they began to create that signature style that made them famous.

They moved to A Productions and acted as Co-Directors for the first 14 episodes of Lupin III. The Duo then went to Sweden to research and gain permission to adapt Pippi Longstocking, which was denied by the original creator Astrid Lindgren. Both directors were saddened by the refusal, but often talk of all the wonderful things they exerpienced while traveling through Europe.

They would shift the already planned story of Pippi to take advantage of a rise in popularity in Panda bears, and make Panda! Go, Panda! The two shorts were a blueprint for the later Ghibli film, My Neighbor Totoro, and Miyazaki would use the European cities from the trip as basis for future films like Kiki’s Delivery Service and Porco Rosso.

Moving to Nippon Animation in 1974, Takahata would direct Hiedi: Girl of the AlpsMarco: From the Appenines to the Andes, and Anne of Green Gables for the popular series World Masterpiece Theater. Miyazaki would help in animation, story, and planning, while also stepping up to direct his first series.


FUTURE BOY CONAN

FUTURE BOY CONAN

Future Boy Conan stands with Horus as one of the great pieces of work from the era, and the standard formula of Ghibli Studio in the future. With Takahata and previous Spotlight Director Tomino on storyboard, the action and mature pace of the series set the standard for future adventure series. Based on the novel The Incredible Tide, the characters and story are simple and effective. It also would show the budding talent of Miyazaki that would evolve into later films, like Castle in the Sky and Spirited Away, that feature a similar male-female duo in adventure.

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The Castle of Cagliostro

With an offer to direct his first film, Miyazaki would leave Nippon Animation halfway through Anne of Green Gables, to return to TMS Entertainment and the Lupin III series in 1979. The film features a lot of Miyazaki’s action centered storylines and design, along with a female lead that is an early mock-up of later films like Nausicaä and Princess Mononoke. Steven Spielberg also thinks it’s pretty good, so that is a nice plus.

Miyazaki would shift the Lupin dynamic in the film to make it more fun and energetic. The main character, Lupin, changed from a thief who drove cars ‘Hitler would like’ while stealing with his evil pals, to a bumbling hero running around the countryside with his pals who drove a Fiat 500. A defining moment of the series story and marked as the moment Lupin III ‘grew up’.

Miyazaki would go to Disney Studios with a group from TMS Entertainment and show the film. John Lasseter of Pixar fame would be at the event and be heavily influenced by Miyazaki. This would bleed into all of Pixars works and directors like Pete Docter, making Pixar into a western animation powerhouse that mirrored Miyazaki’s style. Glen Keane  would also cite Miyazaki as a major influence during the height of Disney’s works in the 90’s, as chief animator on Little Mermaid and similar films.


The Birth of Studio Ghibli

The Castle of Cagliostro introduced Miyazaki to producer, owner of Animage and investment founder of Studio Ghibli, Yasuyoshi Tokuma. Tokuma would enlist Miyazaki to make a manga series for Animage, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. The series ran for 12 years, a sprawling epic of a story often compared to the Akira manga in scope and depth. Miyazaki would also work on Lupin III: Part II and Sherlock Hound, before leaving TMS Entertainment to turn Nausicaä into a film.

Tokuma encouraged Miyazaki to turn the manga into a film, and Miyazaki eventually said yes on the condition that he direct. With Isao Takahata finished Anne of Green Gables, he ‘reluctantly’ moved into Topcraft Studio with Miyazaki to create their first major film. The studio was small and chosen to allow the duo as much control as possible with a top notch art team. Topcraft would go bankrupt during the process of making the film so Tokuma, Miyazaki, and Takahata would buy the company to create Studio Ghibli’s first office.

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Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

Nausicaä is a stunning piece of work. Miyazaki tried to avoid making any side good or evil, attempting to cross various perspectives into a pattern of moral ambiguity. Though it gets a bit muddled at the end, due to time constraints and difficulty in writing the screenplay on Miyazaki’s part. A rocky, but suprisingly grand start to the Ghibli name, it’s an amazing film.

Our protagonist is the perfect form of a strong woman and Miyazaki would keep the trend in most of his works. So many “strong” women fall into this weird “I can do it too” area. That only highlights how the author views the women as weaker in some sense. Or worse, they simply turn the women into mannish caricatures that dwindle the female part of the person. Miyazaki on the other hand, comes out of the gate swinging. This is a woman, she has strength, determination, and a brain. And none of it is mannish, or proven through displays against a man to measure. She is her own person.

Hideaki Anno would get his first real job working under Miyazaki and the director would push him into animating the most important scene of the film. Miyazaki had previously planned a storyboard that he would turn into Castle in the Sky, Anno would take the same storyline and direct Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water later on in his career.

Anno’s famous ‘God Attack Scene’ that launched his animation career.

Nausicaä would get a Western release under the name Warriors of the Wind that would brutally cut 20+ minutes from the film and destroy the story. Studio Ghibli then instituted a strict ‘no cuts’ policy, where any release of their films must be as originally planned with no changes unless directly approved.


CASTLE IN THE SKY

CASTLE IN THE SKY

Studio Ghibli’s first official release would be Laputa: Castle in the Sky based around the novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and inspiration from Gulliver’s Travels. It would actually be the second work planned by the studio, with Miyazaki and Oshii working on a film called Anchor that fell through in production. The two directors had very different views on the anime and visual medium but would continue to be close friends.

The film would bring back the adventuring couple dynamic from his earlier series, Future Boy Conan, with a mix of the natural world morals from Nausicaä. With entertaining villains and a fast paced chase across the world, Castle in the Sky captured the hope and uplifting nature of Miyazaki’s will.

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The water painting style of Miyazaki and the talented team of animators would make a timeless beauty of animation that is filled with vibrant color and movement that helped bring out Miyazaki’s love of flight.


MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO

MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO

Studio Ghibli would release a double feature film. Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro that explored the wonder of life and nature, and Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies that explored the connection of family through the darkest of times. The dual billing was considered “one of the most moving and remarkable double bills ever offered to a cinema audience”, but Takahata would regret the decision to join the movies as his was often mis-represented as a painfully sad film in contrast to Miyazaki’s.

Totoro became such a hit within Japan it’s comparable to Winnie the Pooh, with every child having a stuffed animal at their bed side. The childlike wonder and peaceful adventure storyline was Miyazaki’s proof that fantasy adventure was no crutch. His films were about the beauty of the world and the characters within it.

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Miyazaki would draw on personal stories with the girls being framed after his niece, and exploring a time around his own mothers time in the hospital. Miyazaki’s mother suffered from spinal tuberculosis and was bedridden from 1947 until 1955 during his elementary years. But the film avoids the sad points and instead focused on the wonder of a child’s imagination and the beauty of the world arond us. Miyazaki brought in Kazuo Oga as animation director, and Oga would design the Studio Ghibli brand of animation and be a large part of future films.


KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE

KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE

Based on the novel by Eiko Kodano of the same name, Ghibli got the rights to make the adaptation while both the directors were busy on the double feature. Sunao Katabuchi was brought in to direct the film with animation director Katsuya Kondou. Miyazaki would often step in to the process to write, storyboard, and frame many of the shows scenes. Once done with Totoro, Miyazaki would assume control of the film and move Katabuchi into an assistant director role.

The film explores the standard Ghibli ideals of a maturing woman with a lack of proper villain that would be seen again in Spirited Away. With an emphasis on loneliness, isolation, independance, and reliance, the film explored the idea of youth reaching the age of decision. This mirrored Takahata’s film Only Yesterday released around the same time, though Takahata’s reality focused stories would not get accepted for release in the West like Miyazaki’s.

Disney and Studio Ghibli would make a distribution deal to bring the Japanese films to the West. Kiki would be the first film to be dubbed and released to the market and would gain a large popularity ranking in the Top 10 of rental films in 97′.


PORCO RoSSO

PORCO ROSSO

Miyazaki’s love of flight is quite clear in most his films, but Porco Rosso goes all out. A lovingly crafted narrative around 1920’s era animation, mixed with Miyazaki’s unique robotic designs, led to a wonder of flight in animation. I still love watching the take off scene.

The story was turned more serious to mirror the Slavic wars going on at the time, but was originally a light hearted adventure outlined in his periodic manga release, Day Dream Data Notes.

The full Dream Manga

The full Dream Data Notes

A sequel was planned with Miyazaki on story and Yoshifumi Kondou directing, but Kondou would die in 1998 and led Miyazaki to announce his retirement for the first of many times. Since then the film has gone on haitus and is likely to stay that way with Miyazaki’s latest retirement and step down from Studio work.


Final Thoughts

Miyazaki would act as producer on Takahata’s films Only Yesterday and Pom Poko. He would also script and produce the first Ghibli film directed by someone other than the Duo, Yoshifumi Kondou’s Whisper of the Heart.

With this first stretch of anime including Horus, Conan, Lupin III, and the first decade of Studio Ghibli, Miyazaki’s legend in the industry was already cemented. Next week we’ll cover the stretch of masterpiece films from Miyazaki beginning with 1997’s Princess Mononoke.

For now I’ll leave you with a music video directed by Miyazaki released in 1996. On Your Mark

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Satoshi Kon

 Satoshi Kon 36497

MAL | Wiki | IMDB

Our first Master Director, Satoshi Kon, was a visually gifted director who produced 4 very interesting films and a tv series. Each has a unique use of direction and story to delve into social ideals and reality bending fun.

Kon’s visual and layout centered directing made each series he worked on feel very dynamic. The animation in scenes often let small details carry the story, making the audience more engrossed in the experience. He would also champion the older character designs of the 80’s that made his films stand above the crowd in look, much like Ghibli’s designs.

Mixing this all with Kon’s wonderful ideas on reality and perception, and he becomes the banner child that carried the torch of Akira and the grand psychological stories that made his home studio MadHouse famous. A Master Director that is sorely missed.


The Foundation

Kon was a visually connective guy, his storyboard and layout work would blend the visuals to remove the idea of a show. He wanted to suck you into the story and forget that it was shifting images. This translated into very creative transitions and cuts that became his signature style by the later films.

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Each of Kon’s films explore fantastic characters on their own unique journey. A lot of his work has a commentary on the “chosen fate” of each person, and is an exploration into how our reality is in constant flux around us. What we decide to see and experience becomes reality, but it is not the only one or even the right one. Kon’s belief that reality was just a facade that hid the true world from us would set his design philosophy for his 4 films.

The fantastic Tony made an Every Frame a Painting video on Kon’s style that really breaks it down. At the end of the video is episode 15 of Ani*Kuri15 ‘Ohayo’ which Kon directed in his later years, it’s a great example of his ambition and style. (Skip to 6:22 for the 1 minute short)


Early Career

Kon’s inspiration and favorite series as a child lists Heidi of the Alps and Future Boy Conan by Miyazaki and Takahata in the pre-Ghibli days, Mobile Suit Gundam by Tomino, and Ishuguro’s Space Battleship Yamato. One major influence above the rest was Katsuhiro Otomo, creator of Akira, and fittingly that is where Kon started his career.

At university I was drawing mangas for fun, but then Kodansha’s “Young Magazine” gave me a newcomer prize, and that made me think of manga artist as another option. At the awards’ presentation party I met Katsuhiro Otomo, and I ended up assisting him with “AKIRA” later when he needed help.

— Satoshi Kon

His first professional release was a one-shot manga called Toriko, now part of his Dream Fossil, a collection of 15 short manga series. It won an award and landed Kon a job as assistant on Otomo’s Akira manga. Kon would release his own full manga, Tropic of the Sea, before writing a second story called World Apartment Horror that Otomo would direct into a Live Action film and Kon would turn into a Manga.


Roujin-Z

Kon then worked on storyboard, layout, and key animation for the very interesting film Roujin Z. A spiritual successor to Akira, the film is a nice gem to catch from a great era. He would follow this up with more storyboard and layout work on various series including Run Melos! and JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, directing episode 5 of the latter.

Kon would work with the amazing Oshii on Patlabor 2, and they would make a manga together called Seraphim. Patlabor 2 can be seen as a blueprint towards Oshii’s most famous work Ghost in the Shell, and the induction of detailed backgrounds with dynamic layout surely came from Kon’s influence. Seraphim, in the same vein, features a lot of the iconography that Oshii would feature in his later masterpiece Angel’s Egg.

 Kon would produce his second independant work, the manga OPUS, that explored a manga artist taken into his own world. A few years later he would animate episode 15 of Master Keaton, and part of Akiyuki Shinbo‘s Suddenly Princess. Shinbo would follow up with SoulTaker and it set the tone for the eventual Shaft studio design philosophy based around Kon’s layout among many other influences.


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Kon would do the script, layout, art direction, and setting for Magnetic Rose, the first of 3 shorts in Memories. Stink Bomb and Cannon Fodder are the other 2 shorts.

All three expand on the ideas of the greatest artists of the time and feature amazing animation. The best film in this spotlight, Magnetic Rose was the birth of Kon’s career and one of the best anime films ever.

This scene features Hiroyuki Okiura, a prolific animator and long time animator for Kon’s later films. Already you can see Kon’s transitions and scene layer technique at work.


PERFECT BLUE

PERFECT BLUE

Satoshi Kon would release his first film with Otomo listed as Special Supervisor on the film to help spread the word. This led to a big showing in the Film Festival circut and Kon’s name would reach the world in spectacular fashion.

The film is a tense horror wrapped around Japan’s infatuation with Idols and the darkest reaches of that idea. The blurs, transitions, and cuts of the show are so important to the presentation and the characters feel tied to the world, blending in with the jumps and changes of tone as if they’re part of the scenery. (Sometimes literally)

Perfect Blue would put Kon on the radar for a lot of people, notably Aronofsky, who would make reference to Kon’s film in Requiem for a Dream.

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Later Aronofsky would buy the rights to adapt Perfect Blue. Requiem conveyed a lot of the mindful ideas from Kon’s first film, but Black Swan was the real adaption. The film changed focus from the society based fans, and to the individuality of artisanship. The more Western centered belief in the personal, managed to convey the struggle of our main character while keeping the film nearly shot for shot repurposed.

Kon always focused on the societies involvement within his stories, and I prefer the social commentary of Perfect Blue, but it’s nice to see a really good adaptation when they come along.

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Like in a play within a play, I’m bringing together time-lines that in reality couldn’t exist next to each other. All I’m actually trying to do is create something like Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five”..

— Satoshi Kon

MILLENNIUM ACTRESS

MILLENNIUM ACTRESS

Satoshi Kon returned 4 years later with Millennium Actress, a heartwarming tale of romance and film. Based on the lives of Japanese Actress Setsuko Hara and Hideko Takamine, Kon’s film sets out to prove that Perfect Blue was no fluke. Speaking to it’s greatness, the film would win a tie with Spirited Away for top honors at the JMAF awards in the year they were released. For a second film to live in the same air as Miyazaki is an impressive feat, let alone one of Studio Ghibli’s best, and cemented Satoshi Kon as an up and coming great director.

The story is told by an aged actress, during an interview with two documentary film makers. As she tells her life story, the audience and the two men are whipped through over 6 decades of life and film. Chasing after the man she loves our actress blends reality and fantasy telling her life story. Our two filmmakers watch the story unfold, sometimes helping along the way.

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Kon’s work in blending all the varied ‘films’ and moments of life together creates an almost nostalgic feeling. By the end, audiences are drawn to mirror the opening of the film and relive the memories of the characters. A genius touch. Millennium Actress can feel similar to Hollywood ‘Bio Pics’ like Ray and Walk the Line, but with the pace of an action adventure romp that can be watched over and over.


TOKYO GODFATHERS

TOKYO GODFATHERS

Tokyo Godfathers has such a simple story that the execution really shines, and all of Kon’s magical layout can be appreciated. One of those Christmas films like Nightmare Before Chrismas, Charlie Brown, or the Rudolf Christmas Special, this is a film that should be watched each year as a tradition.

A Hobo, a Homo and a Runaway pick up a baby… You might think it ends with a joke, but in truth you’ll just end up wanting to hug some people. Our cast of 4 traverses Tokyo over Christmas to find the baby’s mother and maybe a bit of food. Each character has strong growth and inspection of themselves, and the show handles it all with subtlety.

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Kon’s design choices and color palate will make this film look relevant long into the future. A change from his previous works, the characters and environment have a dingy and downplayed tone to it, fitting the mood and story Kon wants to tell.

Co-written with Nobumoto, famous for Cowboy Bebop, Macross Plus, and Wolf’s Rain. The additional dialog skills helped to create a wonderful back and forth chemistry among the cast, and gave the show a wonderful heart. Do not miss this film!

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A Mind Released

I’m working for two years and a half, always in the same mood and with the same method. I wanted to do something that allows me to be more flexible, to realize instantly what flashes across my mind. I was also aiming at a sort of entertaining variation, so I decided to go for a TV series.

— Satoshi Kon

PARANOIA AGENT

PARANOIA AGENT

Kon would shift into TV by making the very interesting Paranoia Agent series. Built around ideas that wouldn’t work in his previous films, the story changes each episode to deliver a wild ride of adventure.

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The secondary character of volume two becomes the central figure in volume three, the supporting part there turns into volume four’s protagonist, and so on. This kind of relay system is one of the ideas I’ve always wanted to try out once.

— Satoshi Kon

The series would explore the ideas of society, lies, propaganda, and the effect it leaves in the world. The main idea, and character, is known as the criminal Lil’ Slugger who uses a baseball bat to assault people. Each episode would follow a link of characters who encounter the villain, eventually building into the culture itself being changed because of him. In doing so, Kon displays the ever shifting reality of ourselves and society that uses these ideas.

This dynamic of changing based on audience perception is similar to Kunihiko Ikuhara’s series that use the viewer bias to better deliver narrative. The two creators may have done marvelous things together given the right time, but Kon’s career took off and ended during Ikuhara’s decade long black list from the industry. Kon would also complain of the difficulty in making series, and the lack of money would lead him to return to feature films.


PAPRIKA

PAPRIKA

Satoshi Kon’s final film was an explosion of color and genius that is cemented into my Top 5. From the cold open that grabs the imagination.

To the credit sequence that features a fantastically odd soundtrack and Kon’s free form reality bending, Paprika is a thrill ride the whole way through.

Both Perfect Blue and Millennium Actress played with the illusion of time and of what we see. Paprika is the ultimate explosion of that idea. Every scene, motion, speech, or step can drastically change what you’re encountering.

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Those things keep us safe, but I think it also sterilizes us. So, things like imagination and one’s willingness to believe in the abnormal have all but been eliminated from our daily lives; for all intents and purposes. The end result of which is soberingly bland reality. Which is pretty much what we live in today. In the film, Paprika is the entity that let’s you experience the utterly fantastic and absurd elements of life. I think that this type of story is becoming increasingly rare, unless it’s about drugs.

— Satoshi Kon

The film explores society and group mania, packed with explorations of what reality is, how it can change, the differences from one person to another, and the various differences within people themselves. Exploring what it means to bring multiple minds together, delivering an interesting detective story, exploring what reality is moment to moment, and melding differing realities together. The colors are vibrant, the scenery is shocking, the whole world lives in a dreamy state of change.

The film had a planned live action adaptation, but it has been put on hiatus after Nolan adapted the storyline into Inception. Nolan had apparently been working on a ‘mind hiest adventure’ for 10 years, and Kon’s brilliance showed him the way to making it a reality. Inception went with a different story and message from Paprika, but we got the cute Ellen Page to cosplay for us, so there is that.

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The End of a Master

I received the following pronouncement from a cardiovascular doctor at Musashino Red Cross Hospital.

“It’s the latter stages of pancreatic cancer. It’s metastasized to several bones. You have at the most half a year left to live.”

Kon would make the previously mentioned short ‘Ohayo’ before getting some terrible news. The illness was kept secret until Kon’s death on August 24, 2010 shocked everyone.

He was in production on the film Dream Machine, which will probably never see the screen, but in his last days he wrote of his life, sickness, and hopes. Kon would reference Maruyama quite a few times in his last written message. Long time producer and MadHouse wizard, Maruyama that would try to bring Dream Machine to life after Kon’s passing but so far has failed to release the incomplete work.

Maki made a pretty great translation of Satoshi Kon’s Last Words that you can read as well.

With my heart full of gratitude for everything good in the world, I’ll put down my pen.

Now excuse me, I have to go.

— Satoshi Kon


Final Thoughts

Satoshi Kon’s mind was a unique gift to the world of anime, and the story telling mediums at large. His characters are well developed and the story arcs of their lives are entertaining. The reality he proposes in his films creates a lavish universe that leaves each film a must see experience.

The best of his generation, Kon elevated the medium and demanded respect through skill and brilliance. A legend that shall live through these films forever.

Yoshiyuki Tomino

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 Yoshiyuki Tomino

MAL | Wiki | IMDB

Yoshiyuki Tomino began his career on the first anime ever, and continues to make series today. A career of over 50 years, the ‘Father of Mecha’, and creator of the ‘Real Robot’ genre, Tomino is a foundation of the anime industry.

‘Kill em All Tomino’ is famous for dark, mature, and death filled series. His script and storyboard designs set the standard for the industry that many still hold today. He would create entire sub-genres and his anime are iconic for Japan across the world. The ultimate Established Director.


Mushi Productions

Yoshiyuki Tomino attended the largest school in Japan, Nihon University, in the art department and would get a job fresh out of school working under Tezuka at Mushi Productions on the first anime.

Technically speaking, the first series in Japan to be animated in the style was a 3 minute short called Instant History, and there are other shorts predating that. The more widely known ‘first anime’ Astro Boy, is what really changed the game.  Tomino would act as script and storyboard on the series to bring Tezuka’s vision to light. His knowledge of technical and sci-fi work would give the series a unique believability, and Tezuka would use him for a variety of Mushi Production shows in the 60’s.

Osper | Princess Knight | Animal 1 | Marvelous Melmo |

Marine Boy | Anne of Green Gables | Heidi of the Alps | Racoon Rascal |

The Brave Frog | Hutch the Honey Bee | Robot Child Beaton |

Nozomi in the Sun | Triton of the Sea |

During this time at Mushi, Tomino would work with a wide variety of the Second Generation of animators. Inspired by Animal 1, Dezaki‘s famous Ashita no Joe series would have Tomino on storyboard. Pre-Studio Ghibli, Takahata and Miyazaki would work with Tomino on Anne, Heidi, and the show that would set the frame for future Ghibli films, Future Boy Conan. Tomino would work with Sasagawa, maker of Yatterman and Gatchaman, Hata, a prolific director most famous for Finding Nemo, and Ishiguro who brought us the masterpiece Legend of the Galactic Heroes and the great series of Macross.

Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, of Space Battleship Yamato and Crusher Joe, would be a key figure in making the first Gundam series and worked directly with Tomino many times over the years. Their shared passion of sci-fi, and well researched mechanics of space, made each series impressive and inspiring.

Keisuke Fujikawa would constantly inspire Tomino through his scripts and screenplays. Fujikawa was close friends and scripter for Go Nagai, another legend of the industry, and their stories would be a mirror to Tomino’s own series. As Tomino created the ‘Real Robot’ and apocalyptic stories, Fujikawa was making ‘Super Robot’ series like Mazinger Z, Space Opera series like Queen Millennia, Galaxy Express 999, Space Battleship Yamato, and the beginning shoujo series like Cutie Honey and Aim for the Ace!


Sunrise and the Gundam Legacy

By 1971, Tezuka’s studio had gone bankrupt and the staff had spread into other places. A lot of these studios, like Kawajiri’s MadHouse, had kept the lifestyle and action series but the studio Sunrise chose to focus directly on the robot genre. With the ability to sell toys based on the series, Bandai and other toy companies would fund the studio to make the more difficult to animate Mecha series. This would become an issue at times with toy companies cutting funding or cancelling Tomino’s early series, not recognizing the genius in them.

Tomino joined Sunrise and began to storyboard, script, and direct a variety of series over the 70’s. Notably among his eary storyboard work is Brave Reideen, the first series to feature robots with souls, and Zanbot 3, a dark series that set the tone for future shows under the genre Real Robot. Tomino also worked in various capacities on:

Neo Human Casshern | Star of Seine | Andes Boy | Voltus 5 | Daitarn 3 |


GUNDAM

MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM

In 1979, Tomino would create one of the most iconic series of anime with Mobile Suit Gundam. As the original creator and director, along with writing a series of manga and 3 novels based on the same story, Tomino introduced the world to Real Robot. A revolutionary Mecha show with no match in cultural impact, until Anno’s Evangelion in the 90’s. While many creators would aim to mirror Tomino’s works, Gundam has far surpassed both anime and media in general to become one of the largest franchises in history.

Making a clear distinction from the previous ‘Super Robot’ series, the story revolved around the warfare the characters were caught up in. The new story that explored politics and the sins of humanity was entirely new ground, and audiences would jump on for the ride in droves. That was after the films came out, the series actually failed and was cut short.

The designs of ships and locations were all set remarkably well and inspired by Space Battleship Yamato. The mobile suits would shift from the large robot style into a more humanoid design inspired by the 1959 Starship Troopers novel. This worked beautifully with the dark, psychological, and violent series that featured humans on both the good and bad sides of the battle fighting to win.

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With a shoestring budget, the series relied heavily on Tomino’s great script and storyboard talents. This didn’t translate well to audiences at first, with it’s original run cut from 52 episodes to 39, and only tight negotiations bringing it back to 43 by the end. Luckily as the show was airing, Bandai would pick up the Gundam robots for a toy line and they exploded in popularity. The toys would fuel the funding to make a movie recap and add a proper ending that would become iconic with the wider audience. Gundam would also win the first Animage Anime Grand Prix prize in 1980.


gundam-timeline

The Gundam story has gone pretty big, with Tomino’s works mostly being the yellow line. Attempting to cover all of Tomino’s works in Gundam would take a while and require a lot of reference. With over 20 entries to the series, manga and novel prints, and a large Video Game library, Gundam is a monster of a franchise.

Here is a brief rundown of his works:

 | Mobile Suit Gundam | Mobile Suit Gundam 1 | MSG 2 | MSG 3 |

After the original series and the movie remakes, Tomino would make the direct sequel. Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam’s attention turned from the war and politics to the more personal aspects. Often mentioned as the ‘dark and gritty’ era of Gundam and one of the franchise’s best series. For the 25th Anniversary, the series was made HD and put into 3 films.

Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam | MSZG 1 | MSZG 2 | MSZG 3 |

Tomino went into a heavy depression after Zeta and his following series ZZ would be a big step down in quality. The trend would continue through 3 more series and quite a few shows outside of Gundam as well.

MSG ZZ | MSG: Char’s Counterattack | MSG F91 | MS Victory Gundam |

A few years later, with a fresh mind, Tomino would channel his best Sato impression. Turn A Gundam would take a big shift away from the war and politics of previous series, and would connect all the disconnected stories of Gundam into one century. With a new ‘Happy Tomino’ style of story, the series takes a much lighter tone and the characters are allowed a slower pacing to really flesh out.

Turn A Gundam | TAG: Earth Light | TAG: Moonlight Butterfly |

He still makes new entries to the Gundam franchise, the 2014 Gundam: G no Reconguista being the latest entry. More importantly, his scads of students are making their own versions with SEED, Stardust, 00, and a variety of others to explore. So next time you have a year or two set aside, try and catch em all!


Beyond Gundam

SPACE RUNAWAY IDEON

SPACE RUNAWAY IDEON

Tomino’s second major series would follow the Gundam standard of being cancelled early and then remade into films. The Ideon: A Contract and The Ideon: Be Invoked would re-tell the story and add a new ending, but the original series would be even more influencial than Gundam.

SpaceRunawayIdeon-Headshot

Mind Blown

The series would be a space opera detailing the horrors of war and humanity’s flaws. Considered to be the prototype of the modern dark and twisted science fiction anime such as the above-mentioned Neon Genesis Evangelion, Akira and Tomino’s own bleak Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam. Ideon featured art and storyboard design that broke new ground, but its brutal and twisted violence would be the true legacy and earned the director his moniker of ‘Kill em All Tomino’.

“By directing combat and war pieces, I could experience catharsis and successfully avoid committing a murder in real life. In this sense, I’m really grateful for that because I was conscious that I had such homicidal traits, to be honest.”

Yoshiyuki Tomino, about his “Kill ’em All” reputation.

space_runaway_ideon_motivational_poster_2_by_slyboyseth-d761y01


His career would continue to drive the sci-fi genre through his non-Gundam series. Some of these are big failures, some are quiet cult classics, but each attempts to break new boundries in anime.

Blue Gale Xabungle would be one of the first ‘Western Sci-fi’ that would give us series like Watanabe’s Cowboy Bebop. Tomino would adapt his own novel, The Wings of Rean, into the fantastic Aura Battler Dunbine and the disappointing Wings of Rean. He also would make the absolutely horrid Garzey’s Wing.

Then came the notable series Brain Powered, which featured Tomino’s later style based around light hearted entertainment and serious issues. The show was a mess with bad animation and complaints of Tomino’s lack of focus. Yoko Kanno, longtime musical wonder woman to the industry, would complain about Tomino being very unspecific and talking a lot about ‘agelessness’ with no real vision of what that was.

Adding to that was Tomino’s open disagreement with another major Mecha series airing at the time. Hideaki Anno was making an homage and reconstruction of Ideon’s style, into Neon Genesis Evangelion. Many people compared the series, and Tomino would point out that he thought shows should be entertaining above all else. Tomino was not a fan of Anno’s direction apparently.

So I was very upset when I saw Evangelion, because it was apparent to me that the people who made it weren’t thinking at all about making fun for or gaining the sympathy of the audience. Instead they tried to convince the audience to admit that everybody is sick, practically in the middle of a nervous breakdown, all the time. I don’t think you should show things like that to everybody. It’s not entertainment for the masses–it’s much more interested in admitting that we’re all depressed nervous wrecks, I thought. It was a work that told people it was okay to be depressed, and it accepted the psychological state that said if you don’t like the way the world works, then it’s okay to just pick up a gun and attack someone. I don’t think that’s a real work of art. When people see that, they begin to realize they are the same way. I think that we should try to show people how to live healthier, fuller lives, to foster their identity as a part of their community, and to encourage them to work happily until they die. I can’t accept any work that doesn’t say that.

Yoshiyuki Tomino, about his thoughts on Evangelion

No You Suck!

Fight Fight Fight!

I equate this mostly to ‘old grumpy director’ syndrome, the kind that often hits Miyazaki, but Tomino would follow up on the statement with a big shift in tone, breaking from the death heavy series. He would make Space Castaways Vifam based around a group of children. It still maintained the dark and adult themes, but the story focused a lot more on the characters. This followed into Heavy Metal L-Gaim, that tried to be more Space Opera than Mecha, and the fun times of Overman King Gainer.

Tomino would also direct the live action film Japan Sinks in 2006, and made one of the best natural disaster scenes ever.


Final Thoughts

Yoshiyuki Tomino’s series have become iconic for not just anime but Japan in general. His development of the Real Robot style, dark themes, and expanding sci-fi, has branded much of anime’s styles and reputation world wide. With a wide library to choose from, Tomino has had many successes and failures, but his title as Father of Mecha and the influence he’s pushed over the decades has earned him the last spot on our Established Director section.

Kunihiko Ikuhara

Kunihiko Ikuhara

 Kunihiko Ikuhara

MAL | Wiki | IMDB

Kunihiko Ikuhara is an ever present figure in the anime industry, simultaniously a beloved creative mind and dismissive creator with a bad attitude.

He is very hard to work with and often makes fun of interviews with little regard to social expectations. His series aim to push social, sexual, and philosophical boundries with an overwhelming perfectionist nature. This has led to a very small library of work, but a large influence throughout the industry.


A Confusing Creator

He's Weird

The Diva

His inspiration and draws are, like Anno or Oshii, not centered in Anime but come from other mediums. With every avant-garde work, he strives to change and disrupt anime’s status quo, in both vision and scope.

During his college days Ikuhara was heavily involved in stage plays, drawing from his main inspirations of Shūji Terayama, a avant-garde poet and filmmaker, Hermann Hesse, another subversive poet, novelist and painter, and Kenji Miyazawa, another novelist. The plays Ikuhara made would feature odd sexual content, often with Ikuhara acting while nude on stage. Sexual themes, stage play design, and philosophical or subversive thought was in everything he did. This would feature heavily in his later series that can be seen as stage plays in themselves.

It’s hard to really nail down what Ikuhara aims to do, as he takes a lot of joy in messing with his audience. Famous for crossdressing at interviews, making comments to play with the fandom, and inserting red herrings in his shows. He often tried to kill off Tuxedo Mask in Sailor Moon, and left the show when they refused his film idea. This all built into a common theme of Ikuhara being ‘hard to work with’ and he was mostly blackballed from the industry leading to 3 shows over a 25 year career.

A professed fan of Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch, Ikuhara’s career could have gone into stage and live film with quite a bit of success. Supposedly he chose to go with anime because it promised a faster timeline to show runner, but it’s hard to say that paid off with such a small library of work.


Early Career under Sato

After finishing college, Ikuhara would join Toei and begin working with the Shoujo King, and previous spotlight director Junichi Sato. Ikuhara would storyboard and train as a director on Goldfish Forecast and Ataru-kun, before taking over as director halfway through the series Maple Town Monogatari and it’s follow up Maple Town Monogatari: Palm Town Hen. Ikuhara would also work with Yamauchi on the series Taruruuto-kun. Both Yamaguchi and Sato were fans of the great Dezaki and presumably mentored Ikuhara to be one of the most imporant influences of his art.

The relationship between Ikuhara and Sato is quite interesting. Sato, a master at production and storyboard, could frame series beautifully and liked very simple stories executed perfectly. In contrast, Ikuhara had a vast knowledge of stage production and social commentary, but little understanding in the technical aspects of anime. The two of them worked on these series with each delivering their strengths and inspiring each other. Without Sato’s restrictions, we may never had the subversive Utena, and without Ikuhara’s idealism and sexual themes we might lack the meta-ness of Tutu or pure hearted Aria series.


SAILOR MOON

SAILOR MOON

Ikuhara would work under Sato during the first portion of Sailor Moon, and met a lot of the people that would join his later Be-Papas group or belong to his school of art.

During Sailor Moon R, Sato had lost some focus and the series was suffering. Ikuhara would step up to finish the season and finalize it with his first full director credit Sailor Moon R: The MovieThe film would summerize what R failed to accomplish in the season, and celebrate Sato’s fantastic Shoujo iconography that would be continued into Utena.

Sailor Moon S would free Ikuhara from Sato’s more innocent aims and let his imagination go mildly wild. Darker, twisted, and laden with psychosexual themes, Ikuhara pushed the limits as far as he could. Our first example of his love of Yuri would be shown in the lesbian duo Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune, while his odd philosophy would enter through the mad scientist villain Tomoe.

Sailor Moon SuperS would involve more nightmarish circus-themed designs, complicated relationships, apocalyptic tones, and eccentric characters. The first showing of his brand of style that would lead to things like the Ikuhara Bingo game.

Dank Memes

Dank Memes?

This darker shoujo style would directly inspire following series like Asaka‘s CardCaptor Sakura and Shinbo‘s Madoka Magica. Creating this ‘apocalyptic magical girl’ genre that would spill over into shounen series like HunterXHunter as well.

Ikuhara had planned to make a follow up film based around his Yuri couple, but Toei nixed the idea and Ikuhara promptly left the company. Ikuhara would gather a group of artists and make the Be-Papas group, with screenwriter and high school friend Yoji Enokido, character designer and animator Shinya Hasegawa, planner Yuichiro Oguro, and mangaka Chiho Saito. Together they would set to create the Sailor Moon film that Toei had axed, and allow Ikuhara to flip off the industry in vindication.


REVOLUTIONARY GIRL UTENA

REVOLUTIONARY GIRL UTENA

Ikuhara would move to the smaller J.C. Staff studio, and concentrated on being a teacher. With only the OP and first episode credited to him on storyboard and episode direction, a lot of the series was spent training new talent and spreading his vision. He would bring Sato in to handle a critical episode 34, but for the most part the series is filled with fantastic names who began their rise under Ikuhara. This led to what’s known as the ‘Ikuhara School of Anime’.

Revolutionary Girl Utena is a series that is hard to quantify or properly describe. It follows the standard design of a fight of the week action series, with the added limitation of recurring ‘duelists’. This limitation opens up the series to explore each character and their reason to battle. It also removes the need to establish threats, instead dedicating the time to comedic slice of life episodes and prose heavy discussions. The school setting, with a central fighting area, let Ikuhara dedicate a lot of time to inserting symbolism and extra layering over the whole series, along with making some fantastic and incomparable moments.

Inspired by Hesse’s Demian novel and other works, Utena’s messages and themes delve deeper and deeper the longer you look at it. Framed as a battle shoujo, turning into philisophical slice of life, moving through every sexual preference, and exploring characters to uncomfortable lengths, the series is relentless in everything it does. The show acts as a stage play inspecting sexuality, dreams, innocence, and adulthood, with Ikuhara constantly poking at the audience.

Everything about it is contentious, but it is also beautiful. The art is wonderfully thick, with reused images allowing for a lot of budget far past what you would expect from a small studio. Our MC takes a artfully crafted journey of trials that explores the ideals of Friendship, Choice, Reason, Love, Adoration, Conviction, and Self. A philisophical feast with genre defining imagery that everyone began to talk about as the standard.

Did you hear, did you hear?

Have you heard, have you heard?


Dezaki’s Disciple

A lot of the imagery in Utena, and earlier Sailor Moon attempts, led to Ikuhara being called Dezaki’s greatest disciple.

Dezaki

Ikuhara’s love of the director began in his youth, where he would watch the God Tezuka and Toei’s early animation age. Specifically, Ikuhara cites Tezuka’s Animerama Trilogy and it’s final film Belladonna Of Sadness. The film featured a young Dezaki on key animation and Ikuhara would follow the man as he went on to create series like Brother Dear Brother, and the masterpiece Rose of Versailles, among others,

This led beautifully into his early career tutors, like Sato and Yamauchi, who were in their prime Toei days and also fans of the great director. Helping mold this idealistic playwright into a proper animation director. Ikuhara would distinguish himself from these other directors through his storyboard work and more abstract design philosophy of story. Treating it as a stage or dream-like state when making them. Once he picked up on the art design, he would set out to create a distinctive style that would inspire a ton of artists and train young directors.


“Ikuhara School of Anime”

ikuhara_style

Planimetric compositions, reuse of backgrounds, emphasis on lighting and character acting, building shots around patterns of concealing and revealing, postmodern fascination with European architectural history, and flowers.. flowers everywhere. This school of animation would inspire and  spread throughout the anime industry making Ikuhara one of the most important names in the industry after only making one original series.

He would train and inspire many great artists like Kojima, Suzuki, Igarashi, Hasegawa, Nakamura, and Hayashi who would translate these ideas into other series. While directors like Nagahama of Mushishi, Takeuchi of Ouran High School Host Club and Star Driver, Rie Matsumoto of Kyousougiga and this season’s Kekkai Sensen (Blood Blockade Battlefront) would cite him as their teacher and inspiration.

Training Igarashi during Utena, Ikuhara would be invited to storyboard episode 24 of Soul Eater. He would do the third ED for Kokoro Connect, the OP for Aoi Hana, storyboard Brothers Conflict, and work with Kenichi Kasai on the series Nodame Cantabile, one of my favorites, doing the OP.


Hideaki Anno would work on transformation sequences on Sailor Moon and make a dedication book to Ikuhara to thank him. In return Ikuhara made episode 2 of Diebuster, the celebratory series and sequel of Anno’s first series Gunbuster. Ikuhara also likes to joke that he and Anno formed the idea for Kaworu in Neon Genesis Evangelion, while enjoying an onsen (spring/bath) together, and many think the final angel is modeled after Ikuhara’s ideals.

Anno's Dedication to Ikuhara

Anno’s Dedication to Ikuhara

Close friends, their personality couldn’t be more different, yet they also closely mirror each other in destroying and rebuilding their respective genres of Mecha and Mahou Shoujo through their iconic series NGE and Utena.

Akiyuki Shinbo and Mamoru Hosoda would both work beside Ikuhara and credit him with their dedication to Dezaki’s style as well. A lot of the studio Shaft, and Shinbo’s technique, can be looked at more commercial ventures of Ikuhara’s abstract and contrasting designs. Hosoda’s work draws more towards Miyazaki’s influence but the framing and storyboard makes liberal use of Ikuhara’s fanciful style.


The Return of the Master

Toei and Ikuhara had left on some bad terms, for Japan at least, but he continued to gain a reputation of being ‘hard to work with’ during Utena. Outside of releasing the even more beautiful Adolescence of Utena, Ikuhara’s career stalled. Whether he was blacklisted by the industry or just refused to come to terms with companies, it led to over a decade of silence.

MAWARU PENGUINDRUM

MAWARU PENGUINDRUM

In 2011, Anime was hitting a peak capacity of market and more shows were being produced than ever before. The always experimental, and risk taking studio, Brain Base would reach out to bring Ikuhara back to the industry. The relationship would still have issues like Brain Base insisting on more comedy and a lighter tone in the series, and Ikuhara would respond with irrelevant blue penguins. These little bastards are there to give you a middle finger the whole way through, and it’s fantastic.

Ikuhara do not want!

Ikuhara do not want!

Having a story based on Night on the Galactic Railroad (read it here), with a viewpoint or references to a million other things that will have you spending more time on Wikipedia than watching. Ikuhara then adds to that, a wonderful reconstruction of the genre with heavy references to Utena, Sailor Moon, and Dezaki’s whole library, that serves to re-brand what you think of as a Shoujo.

Somehow Ikuhara manages to make an entertaining story with a weaving flashback narrative, on top of all these endless references, symbolism, metaphor, ‘screw you birds’ and red herrings. Truly astounding and clear indication that Ikuhara was not sitting on his thumbs during that missing decade.


LESBIAN BEAR STORM!!!

YURI BEAR STORM!!!

Ikuhara returned this year to make Yuri Kuma Arashi, or as it should always be known, LESBIAN BEAR STORM!!! RAWR!! Featuring a lot of Ikuhara’s referencial and symbolic style, the series is a scathing look at the views in Japan, culture, anime, and ‘outsiders’ along with a story of love and joy.

The series just finished and I haven’t fully processed it yet, but the adorable BanjoTheBear has come to help me out.

“YKA focuses on three major motifs: powerful themes, the duality of love, and the concept of mirroring. The first is the anime’s goals; by working with ideas such as prejudice — specifically sexual discrimination and racism — and religion, the show is able to depict the mistreatment of others as something that should not only be avoided, but alsodiscarded. Respect, understanding, and ultimately empathy is what YKA wants you to take away after watching it. The “duality of love” is the notion that love and sin go hand-in-hand. While love is, in the end, something good, a worthy goal to be achieved, it is not without it’s own types of “bad” aspects. Feelings such as jealousy, envy, and anger are closely tied to love just as much as kindness and happiness are. And in order to accomplish these various aspects,mirroring is utilized. It’s the concept of constantly having “the same, but different” events occurring in order toreinforce its own ideas. This isn’t just in the plot points, too. The characters, the music, the art direction; literallyeverything within YKA is mirrored to let the audience fully understand that, like love, “there are always two sides to every argument.” ”

Make sure to catch his 17 part essay, Yuri Kuma and the Effects of Symbolism, to explore the ever present symbolism and metaphor within the series. I highly recommend reading it, he really breaks this insanity down and clearly put in a lot of effort to display the messages behind the images. I mean just look at this clearly defined bear mauling…

Brutal Bear Maulings Beware

Brutal Bear Maulings Beware

With his most Yuri yuri ever, Ikuhara seems dedicated to changing the industry and minds of the public. He said in an interview that he hoped Yuri Kuma Arashi would be ‘genre redefining’ like Utena was before. I’m not sure it will take, but time will tell.


Final Thoughts

Ikuhara is an eccentric, odd, and brilliant director. If you’ve been a fan of anime for some time, or enjoy message and symbol heavy series, then make sure to see these shows. Utena and Penguindrum are constantly revered, and Ikuhara has shaped this industry not through multiple series, but by pure bottled genius. Well worth it.

Morio Asaka

Morio Asaka

 Morio Asaka

MAL | Wiki | IMDB

Morio Asaka rose to prominence around the same time as our other established directors, Sato and Omori. Each carved out a piece of anime’s market and set to make it theirs, and Asaka’s my personal favorite.

One of the few directors I trust to deliver proper romance and drama. An icon among his largely female fan-base, Asaka’s work has defined the Josei demographic and series. On top of this, his storyboard and action-able directing style makes shows really engaging and fun.


MadHouse

Asaka came out of college in Osaka and joined one of the titans of the industry, studio MadHouse. Dipping his toes into assistant directing and storyboard Asaka worked on Junk Boy, a ecchi comedy OVA.

Asaka’s touch at movement got him noticed by Rintaro and he would be moved up to handle Storyboard for the remake of Tezuka’s series, New Adventures of Kimba. The original was quite good, but Rintaro’s remake found a certain comedic through line that gained wide recognition. Asaka also has some great examples of movement like the stampede scene.

Disney would remake the series a few years later into everyone’s childhood favorite Lion King.

Your Childhood is a Lie

Your Childhood is a Lie

Asaka would step up to direct episodes for Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair, based off a lovely song that has been re-used and referenced in everything from Bugs Bunny to Fight Club.

He would also take on more responsibility for Yawara! Which holds a very special place in Japan’s heart. A story about a girl going to the 1992 Olympics to win gold in Judo, the first Olympics to ever host one. The anime finished just as the actual Olympics began, and a young Japanese girl would win Silver in Judo and be called Yawara-chan for years… Seriously.

Showing a deft hand at dynamic storyboards and episode director. His work in translating movement, more so than animating it, was impressive and Madhouse moved him into more experimental work at the helm.


The Step to Director

Asaka ‘officially’ became a director with his fantastic CardCaptor Sakura, but before getting into the big name game he toiled on some mixed works as Director. MadHouse was seeing a big identity crises at the time, not quite into Satoshi Kon’s era but past the prime of Dezaki and Rintaro, this led to some weird and pretty knarly series.

His first director credit was on Pops which is impossible to find but featured some early ‘serious shoujo’ elements to it. Asaka would work on storyboard and direction for a Playstation video game called Noel, but good luck finding it. Mermaid Scar as a sequel to another OVA, followed this and also delt with some teen mature aspects. It can be interesting, especially if you enjoy Japanese mermaid mythology.

Phantom Quest Corps would feature Asaka directing part of it, but had him working with some all star casts. Previous spotlight director Kawajiri, along with Ueda, ChigiraInoue, and many others would pour their heart into this little series of 4 OVA’s. Something Asaka would mirror in his later series Rosen Maiden.

He also made Cathexis, a 30 minute music video of the dude singing and fighting a cyborg and crashing a bike…

Returning to Storyboard, Asaka worked on Azuki-chan and Anna no Nikki, the latter based on the ‘original creator’ Anne Frank. He would help with the failure, or nostalgic homage, X (1996) before finally working on a good series with Birdy the Mighty under Kawajiri again. While working on X (1996), Asaka would meet the most important group of artists to work in Shoujo, and have a profound affect on his career.


The CLAMP Era

Asaka would become the wunder director for a group of artists known as CLAMP. A group of female artists, they’ve created a massive universe of stories ranging from childish humor series like Sakura to gore fests like X. The CEO of Funimation calls them, “one of the most acclaimed groups of artists in Japan.” They often re-use characters and settings, creating a full universe of stories that is pretty interesting the deeper you go.

The relationship began with CLAMP in Wonderland as a MAD/AMV style homage to the groups series made in the 80’s.


CARDCAPTOR SAKURA

CARDCAPTOR SAKURA

Asaka’s first major directorial work, launching his career and name among the industry, was CardCaptor Sakura. The series is quite impressive, considered next to Precure and Sailor Moon as the example of mahou shoujo series.

Playing up his strengths as a director, Asaka managed to make a show that stands above the crowd. With a focus on action scenes and dynamic comedy styles. The series would also feature Asaka’s signature characters of confident women and shaky men. His style made Sakura a clear distinction from Sato’s Sailor Moon and other series looking to join in the magic girl genre at the time.

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A creation from the minds of the CLAMP group, the series was changed from the original manga but kept the same heart. A story of love, friendship, and acceptance, the series is a wonderful journey that would continue through 2 movies and 2 OVAs.


Asaka woiuld continue to mirror last weeks director Sato in experimenting with the Shoujo demographic of shows with Galaxy Angel. Similar to Kaleido Star as a kind of Sentai Shoujo Slapstick Series that is pretty entertaining.

CHOBITS

CHOBITS

CLAMP would release their first Seinen series, Chobits, and Asaka would find his calling. I’m not a huge fan of Sakura (or magic girl series in general, just preference) but boy do I love me some Chobits.

Aimed towards the more mature Seinen audience, it deals with questions of humanity vs technology. A better version of Eve no Jikan, or a precurser to Her, the show left a big impression in the industry and abroad.

While making the series, Asaka would begin carving out a style that we now recognize as typically Josei standard. Gunsliger Girl would expand Chobits idea into a darker and more active story but keep the female friendly style. Battle bots with emotions and the consequences involved, all within the same universe of CLAMP.

Rosen Maiden would have a mixed result. A break from CLAMP’s work, the series suffered from proper focus and shows Asaka testing some more personal technique. There is seeds of great characters, whispers of intriguing plot, but it gets left in the wind. The stories structure is flimsy and leaves a lot to be desired, but a belief in Asaka gives us a little gem of a show. tumblr_m48ewht0Fg1qbvovho1_500 The show is beautiful, heartbreaking, and wonderfully delivered in the moment to moment. A story of romance, dolls, and artistic merit with grand ideas similar to Shinbo’s Le Portrait de Petit Cossette, but with much lighter and less auteur methods of delivery. I quite enjoyed it.


A Winning Formula; Josei

This is when a lot of series would begin to brand themselves as Josei, to better separate from the younger and more fanciful Shoujo demo. MAL’s listing of Josei shows is limited, but it features nearly all knock out series. The great sporting man Yuzo Sato‘s Gokusen. The ‘live for your dreams’ Kenichi Kasai‘s Honey and Clover, and Nodame Cantabile. The astounding Dezaki‘s Tale of Ginji. Spotlight directors like Omori’s Princess Jellyfish, and Watanabe’s Kids on the Slope. It’s all so wonderful! Sorry, went all fangirl agian…

Coming slightly ahead of the curve, still listed as Shoujo, is one of my favorite series to recommend…

NANA

NANA

Based on the acclaimed manga by Ai Yazawa, and part of a larger franchise with video games, albums, tv, and 2 live action films, Nana and Nana 2. The live films are pretty good and sold well in the Japanese theaters, fans of the anime might want to check them out.A good introduction to other great live actions like Death Note, Kamen Rider, and Kenshin films.

The series follows our two lead girls, both named Nana. Moving to Tokyo, attempting to escape their past and innevitably falling back into it, while facing new struggles.

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Part fairy tale romance, part shoujo drama, but believably real. Characters are at the center of the story and it’s hard to find a better choice of leads. The Nana’s take a journey of hardship, heartbreak, and rock music.

The rest of the series feature a cast that is given ample time to develop into a real people. No trope or one dimensional cut outs in the show allow for moments of drama to come from so many angles. A web of emotions, it’s one of my favorites in the genre.


Asaka would step back from directing for a bit. This led to his fantastic Storyboard work on Black Lagoon and Claymore. Both have this sense of adventure and intense characterization that builds into watching it. Asaka’s hand can really be felt in the dynamic of watching the shows and I’d recommend any of them if you want a bit more action and blood in your anime.

He would also take a bit of a left turn, directing the first 4 episodes of Blue Literature, pretty close to a must see series. Based on 6 traditional Japanese literature, the series is an amazing insight into the culture and mindset that typically can feel alien. The first 4 episodes with Asaka are especially touching and dark.

CHIHAYAFURU

CHIHAYAFURU

Luckily Asaka returns to making great female characters, meet Chihaya; the best girl. Our lovely lady takes us through the most exciting possible version of a show based on Kuruta. Asaka showcases his real action and pacing talent, running on all cylindars for the whole series. The two seasons fly by, often in one haggard weekend of non-stop poetry marathon goodness.

Watch the 2014 Queens Match (championship) to see the sport in action. It’s beautiful and wonderfully traditional, but a bit lacking in the blood pumping action.

As with my review of Ping Pong, this series is at it’s heart a sports anime that is constantly explained away. A love triangle, drama, romance, and questions of maturity all feature within the show, sure. But key to this great series is the sport and Chihaya’s drive to be the best. The show draws you in to cheer on this athlete as she performs her best and slaps her way to the top. chihayafuru_zpsa028824f While the wider cast delivers a beautiful view on sport and the efforts we put in. Each character feels unique, relateable, and draws on our fundamental natures as humans to find our passion. Another highlight show from Asaka, and one that I’ve yet to find a naysayer of. Embrace and love your goddess along with the 100 beautiful Waka. (Poems of Japan)


Final Thoughts

Asaka is a quiet one, where I never quite understand what he is bringing to the table outside of action shots and storyboard, yet I trust in every show he puts out. His latest series, Ore Monogatary (My Love Story), just began the season and already it’s looking like a hit.

Josei is a relatively niche market, and it often gets overlooked, luckily Asaka’s been pumping out the goodies for a while now. So treat yourself to one of these lovely stories, and enjoy a different flavor of entertainment.