Summer Season 2015 Preview

Summer Preview 2015

Here we are again, a new season is upon us and you have no idea what to watch! Here are most (hopefully all) of the series that will air in Summer, minus sequels that should have the existing audience. Enjoy!


Top Picks


Snow White

Snow White with the Red Hair

With some big Manga hype in the hands a solid director who can handle action and slice of life, this series is looking good.

Directed by Mashiro Ando

Directed some really great series like Canaan, Hanasaku Iroha, Blast of Tempest. Ando has delivered some truly amazing work. being a Key Artist for Ghost in the Shell, Jin-Roh, and Metropolis. He worked as a main episode director and storyboard for series like Full Metal Alchemist, Wolf’s Rain, and Medarot.

He also directed the fantastic film Sword of the Stranger.


uushio

Ushio and Tora

MAPAA studio continues to impress in art and style. Great, if flawed, series that really capture the shounen spirit. 

Directed by Satoshi Nishimura

Nishimura has a pretty solid resume directing Hajime no Ippo and Trigun, some top notch series. I think he can bring on some extra skill to add to MAPAA’s line up of stylized series like GARO, Bahamut, and Terror in Tokyo.


Rokka-no-Yuusha

Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers

Likely an entertaining and suprising series. The director of Spice & Wolf will always win me over.

Directed by Takeo Takahashi

Takahashi has directed quite a few solid series, stand out among them is Love Love?, Maoyou Maou Yuusha, and both seasons of Spice & Wolf. The manga is from the same writer as Armed Librarians, which featured some unique powers and storylines.


gang

Gangster.

This could get deep, and action packed, so look out for what might be the mess, or best, of the season.

Directed by Shukou Murase

Murase has made some interesting, if flawed, series like Witch Hunter Robin and the more famous Ergo Proxy. He knows how to play a tone, and handle a gun fight, so this should be a ton of fun.


Prison-School-anime-672x372

Prison School

Manga has some hype, looks interesting. Big hype for a director who rarely does me wrong.

Directed by Tsutomo Mizushima

Mizushima is a swiss army knife. He brought the A game for Another, Blood C, and xxxHolic. Then knocked out some solid series in Witch Craft Works, Girls und Panzer, and to a lesser extent Plastic Nee-san. He also directed two of the best slice of life shows in recent memory, the fantastic Genshiken and Shirobako.


The Entertainment


laplace

Ranpo Kitan: Game of Laplace

This could be interesting, but likely will fall the way of other works like Danganronpa in disapointment.

Directed by Seiji Kishi

Kishi is an experienced director, but is hit or miss on story choices. Angel Beats, Carnival Phantasm, Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita, and YuYuYu are all good series. But on the flip side sits Assassination Classroom, Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova, Danganronpa, and Hamatora. Ranpo Kitan is looking to fit into the later catagory, but I’ve been suprised before.


Symphogear

Senki Zesshou Symphogear GX: Believe in Justice and hold a determination to Fist!

Ohhhhh baby! See my weekly watch thread, where we’ve been enjoying the previous 2 seasons in preparation. The GLORY, the HORROR, the SINGING! Get hype.

Directed by Katsumi Ono

Ono directed Beast Saga, Hataraki Man, Yugioh Arc-V and 5D’s, as well as the second season of Symphogear.


Chaos-Dragon-Sekiryu-Seneki-

Red Dragon War

This is really happening right? I’m not having some kind of seizure?

Gen Urobochi (Fate/Zero), Kinoko Nasu (Kara no Kyoukai), Iduki Kougyoku (Mimizuku to Yoru no Ou), Ryohgo Narita (Durarara!!), and Simadoriru (member of the Stripe Pattern doujin circle); played a tabletop role-playing game sessions over six days and created material for a seven-volume light novel series.

Directed by Matsanu Matsune

Only credit is Assistant Director on the breif OVA series, Alice in Boarderland. Shou Aikawa brings some interesting Script credits, but working with role playing maniacs might be difficult.


Gate

Gate: Thus the JSDF

Directed by Takahiko Kyogoku

Kyogoku has made a living off the Idol series like Wonderful Rush and Love Live!, so this is a pretty big change of pace. Interested to see how he transitions.


sister

My Two-Faced Little Sister

The searmay show of the season. Cute girls, talking animals, little girl to the extreme!

Directed by Masahiko Oota

Oota has directed the sweet tooth series Love Lab, Minami-ke, Sabagebu, and Yuri Yuri Looking like another series of pure moe greatness.


The Rest


God Eater – Director Takayuki Hirao

The director of Gyo and the amazing Garden of Sinners 5, makes this look promising.

Charlotte – First time director Yoshiyuki Asai.

Asai worked on Captain Earth and Fairy Tale, doing storyboard and episode direction. The manga is from Key, famous for series like Air, Clannad, Little Busters, Kanon, and Angel Beats.

Castle Town Dandelion – Director Noriaki Akitaya

The director of the great Bakuman series.

Classroom Crises – Director Kenji Nagasaki

Nagasaki directed Gundam Build Fighters and No.6. He also worked as episode director for Monster and Gundam 00.

Aoharu X Machine Gun – First time director Hideaki Nakano.

Nakano is a long time ‘One Off’ episode director doing OP, ED, 2 episode arcs, and 3 episodes out of 50, nothing of substance yet.

The Instructor of Aerial Combat Wizard Candidates – Director Takayuki Inagaki

Directed quite a few series, namely Muv Luv Alternate, NouCome, and Rosario + Vampire.

A Boring World Where the Concept of Dirty Jokes Doesn’t Exist – Director Youhei Sezuki

Sezuki has directed The Hentai Prince, and directed mutliple episodes of Nodame Cantabile.

Everyday Life with Monster Girls – Director Tatsuya Yoshihara

Previous credits are Yoru no Yatterman.


The End

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Osamu Tezuka

Osamu Tezuka 11508

The God of Manga, Father of Anime

MAL | Wiki | IMDB

The ‘god of manga’ and ‘father of anime’ titles are quite the feat for a single man. With over 700 manga and 500+ anime episodes of work, Tezuka pumped out genre defining and culturally important works at an insane rate. To go through all his works would require three or four spotlights alone, and covering the career of Osamu Tezuka is best left to dedicated wiki’s like Tezuka in English.

Tezuka is considered equal to both Walt Disney and Jack Kirby at the same time! A designer of industry, a creative wizard, and a prolific work ethic molded his legacy over a 40 year career.  Some have lamented the choices Tezuka made in production and style, but his passion for stories was unquestioned. Plus he is a descendant of Hattori Hanzo, a famous ninja and samurai, how awesome is that? So, lets take a look at some highlights of the most important man in anime.


The Golden Age of Manga

In the late 1940’s, America was seeing the surge of comic books they referred to as ‘The Golden Age’. Batman, Superman, and Captain America exploded onto the culture and defined the medium. As this was happening Tezuka, at only 17 years old, produced his first few manga series and began a manga golden age in Japan.

Diary of Ma-Chan was his first release, a short 4 page strip of light comedy.

ma-chan

In 1947, Tezuka would release New Treasure Island that would catapult his name into the fledgling industry. The series built up the epic adventure storylines, with childlike wonder and entertainment that artists like Miyazaki would take on later. Tezuka’s interest in Western stories, adapting them heavily into his own style, gave birth to a lot of the anime norms that exist today. Big eyes, lighter skin, chibi body frames, a lot of this comes from Tezuka’s original designs inspired by the Western industries.

His next release, Angel Gunfighter, would also do well and define the Cowboy Western motif that artists like Kawajiri and Watanabe would make their own. His manga Age of Adventure, features a Japanese envoy to the US that becomes stranded in a town. The local bartender is the character from Angel Gunfighter, and became the first of many examples of Tezuka’s ‘Star System’.

The system involved many of his favorite characters, inserted into various projects throughout his career. Black Jack, Astroboy, and others can be found as side characters in many works, but the hi-light was his villains. He would often re-use characters in the villain role, expanding their lore and drive. 

Tezuka's Star System

Tezuka’s Star System

Tezuka produced a horde of manga series that are not all covered, but here are most the notable works:

Fossil Island | The Adventure of Rock | Crime and Punishment |

Chief Detective Kenichi | Soyokaze-san | Angel’s Hill |

Captain Ken | Brave DanWonder 3 | Ambassador Magma | Gum Gum Punch |

Suspicion | Vampires | Grand Dolls | Swallowing the Earth | The Creator | Dororo |


The Big Series

In 1949, Tezuka would make the Metropolis manga. Following the questions of humanity and extinction, the series took a serious philosophical tone and would inspire future films like Akira, Ghost in the Shell, and Serial Experiments Lain. Otomo, director of Akira, would adapt a script from Metropolis along with famed genius Rintaro directing, and make the final film of their career. The 2001 film, Metropolis, had many changes from the original manga but was a fine homage to Tezuka’s ideals.

Princess Knight is largely considered the first Shoujo manga, aimed at the female audience and narratively focused. Tezuka credits his mother for taking him often to the Takarazuka Revue, an all female stage group. It also had a sequel, Twin Star.


Kimba the White Lion

Kimba the White Lion

Based on Tezuka’s manga of the same name, often called Jungle Emperor. The manga would be adapted into the original 1965 anime, but also:

1965 Anime | 1966 Sequel | 1966 Film | 1989 Series | 1997 Film | 2009 Film |

The series follows a lion on a journey that we are all pretty familiar with. Tezuka enjoyed adapting Western ideas and tuning them to his own style. A lot of his works, but especially Kimba, would have elements of Shakespeare and Euro folk tales spread throughout.

The series would also serve as inspiration for one of Disney’s biggest films. Executives on the film Lion King, denied any knowledge of the series and say similarities are just coincidence. This looks pretty miraculous on comparison, but fun is fun. Kimba’s story has become one recognized around the world in one way or another.


Astro Boy

Astro Boy

Astroboy is easily the most recognized Japanese character of all time. Tezuka’s original manga, and anime, followed the heroic robot boy through a long and varied story. The series would touch on elements of every genre, spread through short arcs of simple but unique storylines.

Over the years Astroboy would be remade or re-spun into a variety of series that vary on quality.

| 1952 Manga | 1963 Anime | 1964 Film | 1980 Anime | 2003 Anime2003 Manga |

| Spinoff 2003 Manga ‘Pluto’ | Spinoff 2014 Manga ‘Atom: The Beginning’ |

In January 1965, Tezuka received a letter from American film director Stanley Kubrick; Kubrick had watched Astroboy (1963) and wanted to invite Tezuka to be the art director of his next movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Tezuka could not afford to leave his studio for a year to live in England, so he refused. 2001 would have an impact on Tezuka. He often said that it would play loudly as he wrote his manga, and the scifi elements in the works would drift to a similar introspection.


Animation for Adults

In 1970, Japan was in mirror with America and the culture clash of generations. A perfect storm of the rise of student protests, civil disobedience, and sexual freedom was happening. Tezuka had always been interested in showing that animation could be for adults, and he used this uprising in culture to change his direction.

Tezuka’s short stories were collected at various times in his career. During the 60’s, this came out as Son of Godfather and Rainbow Prelude, and the 70’s featured Suspicion and The Thief. Showing the change in tone from decade to decade. He would also release a spread of experimental films during the late 60’s.


The highlight of this era is Tezuka’s ‘Animerama Trilogy’ that features the films 1001 Arabian Nights, Cleopatra, and Belladonna of Sadness. The films would eventually lead to the end of Mushi Productions, Tezuka’s studio, but was a bright and beautiful way to end an era.

1001 Arabian Nights was the first of the three films. Aladdin, Alibaba, and the story of the sands is told in many ways but never quite like Tezuka. The story featured open nudity, mature themes, and overt sexual imagery.

It was a critical success in Japan as an imaginative and experimental film, featuring an intelligent adult story with psychedelic rock music. The often stylized and abstract animation was combined with occasional brief live-action footage..

Directed by Yamamoto, a long trusted director of Tezuka, maintained a lot of the adventure dynamic from Tezuka’s earlier series. Osamu Dezaki, one of the industry’s best ever, would come to prominence as the film’s Art Director as well.

spider

The True Genie of Aladdin

Cleopatra would add the dynamic of political and manipulative use of sex, as well as featuring a constantly nude female lead. Unlike A Thousand and One Nights, Cleopatra was a critical and commercial bomb though. The film seemed highly influenced by Kubrick’s film and was disjointed avant-garde gibberish at times.

Tezuka’s obvious loss of interest in Mushi’s main specialty, children’s animation for TV, and his obsession with adult animation led to his studio into severe funding problems. He would leave the studio before production of the third film began.

The legendary Rintaro would direct the film, with Dezaki and Spotlight Director Kawajiri on animation. The three of them would work on Tezuka’s Phoenix series afterwards, then go on to form MadHouse studio.

cleo

Belladonna of Sadness would be the final ‘Animerama Trilogy’, and without Tezuka. The film was artistic, extreme, and experimental. A lot of this is credited to the film being the ‘final goodbye’ before Mushi Productions went bankrupt. Everyone knew it was their last hurrah, and they delivered.

Belladonna took the sexual theme to the extreme, with a violent and auteur delivery of sexual destruction. After being raped, a girl discovers a sexual identity that gives birth to magic powers and witchcraft. The story shifts into a Joan of Arc style story, but it is an interesting dive into the psyche of a Japanese culture breaking apart as well. A unique and fantastic film.

Spotlight directors Kawajiri, Ikuhara, Oshii, Takahata, Kon, and Tomino would all reference the film as having a big impact on their work.

tumblr_ms8nsjpHOS1rq0vrko1_500


Marvelous Melmo would be the first series from Tezuka Studios, a secret production that he set up as things were going sour at Mushi Productions. The series would come out to mixed results and parental backlash, credited as the inventor of the ‘panty shot’ so famous in anime. It wasn’t a sexual series, but the undercurrent of sexual identity and acceptance likely bled over from Tezuka’s Animerama Trilogy.

Big X was a superhero story, similar to Captain America, but with much less patriotism and a lot more Nazi’s. The manga came out in 1963 and is a prototype of one of Tezuka’s final works based on a rather famous Nazi.

cover-message-to-adolf

Message to Adolf

Tezuka’s final completed manga, Message to Adolf, hasn’t had an adaptation yet. The story follows three Adolfs, one being Hitler, and is a spy thriller set before World War 2. The series is fantastic, deep, intricate, and has spurred the Nazi memorabilia in Japan that low effort Blogs love to show off.


The Spiritual and Healing Tezuka

While he listed as agnostic in general, Tezuka has earned a reputation of being a Buddhist, and was eventually buried in a temple grave site. A lot of this comes from his later series that follow a life affirming and spiritual nature.

Blue Triton would be a return to Astroboy shoujo style, but kept a more light hearted nature. The talk of nature, balance in life, and sense of community would make the series quite popular. It would be adapted into an anime by Tomino during one of his lighter moods.

original

Buddha

Tezuka series Buddha would gain nationwide recognition and reignite the Shinto and Buddhist traditions. The manga would be made into 2 films, Red Desert  and Endless Trip, in 2011 and 2014 respectively. The manga and the films, would win many award nominations, decades after Tezuka’s Death.

Phoenix

Phoenix

The Phoenix Manga would be Tezuka’s life work. Beginning in 1967 and new chapters coming out right until weeks before his death in 89. The series would have multiple adaptations:

1980 Film | 1986 OVA | 1987 OVA | 1988 OVA | Live Action? | 2004 Series |

Phoenix followed the stories of the eternal bird, reincarnation, and the humanistic ideas of nature. Jumping from old samurai action to the end of human civilization in 3300 AD, the series allowed Tezuka the room to make any story he wanted.

One famous arc included 4 Astronauts who are ejected into space. He depicted each line as a single characters view, showing each moving and trying to survive in a disconnected story frame. When one of the characters died, his frames were left as black to impose the lonely nature of their journey.

He often experiments in the manga with odd or unique visual layout, but the stories would be small arcs of simple philosophy.


The Doctor

Tezuka had graduated university to become a doctor. This was important to many of his earlier works, such as Astro Boy’s anatomy and the use of surgery in a lot of his series. He also explored the goal of healing, the meaning to derive from the act, and the issues that brought about the need for doctors.

Ode to Kirihito is about a heroic young doctor named Kirihito Osanai and his efforts to cure a strange disease that deforms its victims so that they look like dog-people. He becomes infected with the disease himself and is led on a wild odyssey around the world as he is kidnapped and mistreated by the ignorant and the curious, meeting strange allies and stranger foes. . The series gained quite a following, but like Big X it would lead to another massive story by Tezuka.

Black Jack

Black Jack

Black Jack remains one of the most popular manga of all time in Japan.

“I have never met a Japanese person who wasn’t familiar with Black Jack, even those who don’t usually read manga, If Astro Boy is the Japanese Superman, Black Jack is the Japanese Batman. Everyone knows him, even far outside the comics world, and when people think of him people think of his fierce critique of the medical world.”

The series followed our titular doctor as he charged criminals small fortunes for surgery. He refused to join the medical community and acted on his own morals. The story would weave moral, ethical, and situational events designed to use Tezuka’s medical history to full effect. Black Jack was seen as a scathing remark on the Japanese medical community, and is often credited with the wide reforms made in the 80’s.

The series has over 15 adaptations, sequels, prequels, spin offs, and crossovers. An enduring story that moved beyond the medium into a cultural identity.


Final Thoughts

Osamu Tezuka is beyond comparison to any other person in the anime industry. With an average of 18 manga released per year, Tezuka made over 700 manga and developed an industry from its infancy. To compare him to Jack Kirby seems quite fitting, and his title of God of Manga is certainly deserved.

Tezuka also surpassed 40 anime adaptations based on only 3 series; Astroboy, Kimba the White Lion, and Black Jack. To add to that, his Mushi Productions and Tezuka Studio produced well into the hundreds of anime, many based on the manga Tezuka created. Include Astroboy as the first anime series, Animerama introducing the ‘adult 80’s’ era of OVA and film that led to the expansion in the West, and you have a true Father of Anime.

WIth his death in 89, certain people have tried to tear down the godlike status that Tezuka holds. This may come from a good intention but a legend lived among us, and he dreamt of fantastical adventure, futuristic utopia, and classical literature. Tezuka earned every stone in his mountain of praise, he will be missed for generations to come.

Isao Takahata

Isao Takahata 9552

Studio Ghibli’s Quiet Storyteller

MAL | Wiki | IMDB

Isao Takahata is one of the best directors in the business. With a ‘realist’ approach to story, the films and series he makes tend to stray away from his more famous partner. Takahata is no tag along though, making fantastic series and films over 50 years and being a major inspiration to Miyazaki’s works.

While Studio Ghibli, and Hayao Miyazaki, gained international acclaim through the fanciful and folktale style adventure films. Takahata has chosen to focus on the bare bones reality of situations, aiming to push audiences and society in the same way Miyazaki often does. Famous animator Yasuo Ōtsuka said that Miyazaki gets his sense of social responsibility from Takahata and that without Takahata, Miyazaki would probably just be interested in comic book stuff.

The face of Studio Ghibli may always be Miyazaki, but the heart comes from the fantastic Isao Takahata.


Early Work

Takahata graduated from Tokyo University, in the French Literature course, and cites The King and the Mockingbird as a major inspiration to work in animation. He would begin working as an Assistant Director for Toei Animation in 1960, learning under Yasuo Otsuka who would mentor both Takahata and Miyazaki for most their early career.

Working mainly as assistant or episode director, Takahata’s credits include The Little Warrior, Story of Iron, Oorochi the 8 headed Dragon, and Spooky Kitaru. He would also work on the live action 1963 film, The Biggest Duel in the Underworld, before joining his future studio partner Miyazaki on Ken the Wolf Boy and Hustle Punch. Takahata’s episodes 14 and 72 of Ken the Wolf Boy managed to grab attention and be released together as a film to theaters. This led Otsuka to recommend Takahata to get his first series and credit as lead director.

HORUS: PRINCE OF THE SUN

HORUS: PRINCE OF THE SUN

In 1968, Takahata released his directorial debut and it was a disaster. It failed commercially and most of the production staff, including Takahata, was blamed for the incident. Decades later we can see that it was a stunning change in story from the usual fare, and the first marker of the drastic change anime would undergo in the late 70’s and 80’s. This Euro-centric director was just ahead of his time.

Takahata brought in many elements of story from his French and European studies, especially folk tales like Beowulf and King Arthur. Along with it came his unique realist vision that tried to remove the typical fantasy and proto-animal kids stories, instead focused on the boy Horus and the danger filled adventure before him. The realistic depiction of violence and struggle within the film, mixed with the smoother animation style and new types of vision cuts, made it quite visceral to audiences at the time.

Otsuka and Miyazaki would work on the animation and storyboard together, creating massive technological and stylistic leaps from the Astro Boy era. Most famous for the Otsuka animated scene fighting the Pike, that would be the blueprint for Miyazaki’s later Ghibli films.


Due to Horus’ commercial failure, Takahata would be relegated back to an episode director on the series Furious Ataro, Secrets of Akko-Chan, and Apache Baseball Team. Eventually, Takahata and Miyazaki would leave Toei Animation in 1971.

Working on Lupin III, Takahata would act in a semi-producer role on early episodes, then as co-director with Miyazaki on episodes 13-23. Miyazaki would return later for the second instalment and film of Lupin, but Takahata would be busy with World Masterpiece Theater.

Miyazaki and Takahata traveled to Europe to ask for the rights to produce a planned Pippi Longstockings anime, but were rejected by its creator Astrid Lindgren. Miyazaki would rewrite, and Takahata would direct, the adapted story into two Panda Go Panda shorts.

56397l

Redbreast Suzunosuke

Then Takahata would direct his second major project, with Miyazaki on storyboard, based on a more traditional samurai period piece. Not much info on the series remains, but the show was noted for maintaining a lot of the Horus style animation, with smooth swings and paced action. He would also direct 2 episodes of Isamu the Cowboy in similar fashion.


The World’s Storyteller

Isao Takahata had built quite a reputation around the industry for his Euro styled story Horus, the Pippi Longstocking adaption Go Panda Go, and the paced movement of his direction. Nippon Animation would request Takahata come on to develop series for the Calpis Comic Theater, a collection of Western classical tales, that was a perfect fit.

HEIDI: Girld of the Alps

HEIDI: Girl of the Alps

Based on the novel Heidi by Swiss author Johanna Spyri, the series focused on the beautiful landscapes and life affirming adventures of the small cast. Heidi’s journey through the Swiss countryside, love of friends and family, and the meaning of having a home, struck a chord within Japan. The series had a massive following that led to expansion and rebranding of the organization to Calpis Children Theater and eventually Family Theater.

The series maintains popularity today, with the Swiss Alps being a major travel destination for Japan and constant references to the series in current anime. It also has a large following in South Africa, Italy, and Germany, that continue today.

3000 Leagues In Search Of Mother

3000 Leagues In Search Of Mother

Takahata’s second show with Masterpiece Theater was another huge success. Based on the novel Heart by Edmondo De Amicis, the series follows a boy on a journey to find his mother. His travels take him across the world, from Italy to Brazil and back again. Throughout the show, and much like Heidi, Takahata encouraged his animators to fully express the beauty of the countries depicted.

The series is known by multiple names from Marco in Europe, to 3000 Leagues in America, and From the Appenines to the Andes in South America. Again, much like Heidi, the show didn’t take off in the English translation but had a massive success in South America, Middle East, and Africa. Marco was ranked in the Top 100 Animations by TV Asahi, and joined Heidi as classic series known in every home of Japan.

Takahata would continue the relationship with Calpis Family Theater, working as episode director and storyboard for Dog of FlandersMusic Girl of the Alps, Bear Cub Jackie, and The Story of Perrine.

Miyazaki could be found animating these and other series within the group, before the two artists would reunite to make a follow up to Horus and the first ‘Ghibli formula’ series. Future Boy Conan was Miyazaki’s real launch as a director, and shows the formula that would later make Studio Ghibli famous. Takahata would work on storyboard, alongside Tomino, and direct later episodes.

World Masterpiece Theater

World Masterpiece Theater

From 1974 to 1978,  Western folk tales came to every family on Sunday, making Takahata a household name that stood as one of the most respected storytellers in Japan. In 1979, they would rebrand to World Masterpiece Theater and ask Takahata to make their first official series.

ANNE Of Green Gables

ANNE Of Green Gables

Takahata had adapted Marco and Heidi, removing various Christian iconography and changing or adding to the story in places. For Anne of Green Gables, he made an effort to keep it true to the original novel by Lucy Maud Montgomery. Miyazaki would remark that Anne was the first series he took note of Takahata’s heavy use of character acting. This became somewhat of a signature of Takahata’s films.

The series was again a success, and marked the first time Yoshifumi Kondo joined Takahata. Kondo would go on to animate many Ghibli films with Takahata and be the first director other than the duo to make a Ghibli film, Whisper of the Heart.


Takahata joined TMS Entertainment in 1980, the studio producing Miyazaki’s Lupin film, and begin to tell stories more focused on Japan.

Chei The Brat

Chei The Brat

The first release was Chie The Brat, which expanded into a full TV series. Initially the idea was rejected by Miyazaki, then again by Takahata but after a visit to where the manga was based in Osaka he accepted the offer. The story has since become an icon of the Kansai region of Japan, and is often considered Osaka’s unofficial mascot.

Takahata would adapt a famous short story, Gauche the Cellist by author Kenji Miyazawa, into an animated film. The story is a simple and beautiful display of music. A nice little film.

Takahata would travel to the Disney Studio to open relations to the American markets and began production on a film called Little Nemo. Due to production issues, Takahata would leave the company before the project finished, and joined Miyazaki to found Studio Ghibli.


Studio Ghibli

Since 1984, Takahata has been the co-founder for Studio Ghibli alongside Miyazaki. During this time, he worked often as a producer to Miyazaki’s works, created a string of marvelous films, and made some minor works outside the studio that are really interesting if you can track them down.

Takahata would work as producer and storyboard on Miyazaki’s films Nausicaa: Tales of the Valley of the Wind and Castle in the Sky. He would also work as the Music Producer for Kiki’s Delivery Service in 89.

He would make an NHK Documentary called The Story of Yanagawa’s Canals in 87. A village that had restored its olden water canals, renewing the old architecture, reclaiming the community identity, and expanding tourism for the region.

In 2003 he helped write and produce Winter Days. Based the work of poet Matsuo Basho, Takahata worked to adapt the haiku and gather international animators for the project. The creation of the film followed the traditional collaborative nature of the source material, with the visuals for each of the 36 stanzas independently  created by 35 different animators.

Takahata would also animate one of the stanza, number 24 “I can’t solve sorrow’s mystery a cuckoo; A long night of consuming an urn of Autumn water.”


During production of My Neighbor Totoro, producers worried that the story would not gain traction compared to the adventure films and asked Takahata to make a joining film for a double feature.

GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES

GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES

Fireflies was released as a double feature with Totoro, two very different but uniquely challenging films. Each would use animation to tell stories that were considered difficult, if impossible, to sell. Totoro went on to become iconic to Japan, but Takahata has said that he regrets combining the films. People left the film considering Fireflies to be very depressing and sad, which is true, but it was not the core message Takahata wished to convey.

“It wasn’t my intention to give people the catharsis of crying.”

“I intended to depict the boy in Grave as a contemporary boy, rather than a boy in that time. He doesn’t bear with hardships… As a result, his life becomes harder. Such a feeling is closer to the one held by today’s kids. I made the movie by thinking what would happen if a kid today was suddenly sent to that time through time machine.”

“I think that today we can hardly watch a natural death. For instance, people generally die in a hospital nowadays. I’d call it a scientific death. All I wished to find, beyond sadness, it is a straighter way to show things.”

To call this film “Sadness: The Animation” is to undersell the soul crushing nature of the story. Takahata made a harrowing journey that explores war and its destruction, the breaking of families, the sundering of human compassion, and the distance of people. The ideal was to portray the love of family and deep connection to each other that requires no civility, but airing after the hopeful and childlike Totoro muddled the message on release. Even now, the film is often considered an ‘anti-war’ film despite Takahata’s comments otherwise.

“Today, the bonds among family members and the sense of community among neighbors have been weakened. Instead, we are protected by the several layers of social protection/control. … Even if one tries to escape from human relationships and tries to live alone with his sister, how many boys, or people, can keep sustaining their sisters as long as Seita did?”

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The film is beautiful, dark, and emits a glow of subdued energy that is only matched in other masterpiece films like Oshii’s Angel’s Egg. Takahata offers a testament to his ideal of human compassion and the love of true family being the central focus and salvation of humanity, in opposition of war and modern societies distance between people.

Due to licensing, the film wasn’t released through the Disney-Ghibli partnership that Totoro and most of Miyazaki’s films benefit from. This led to a less wide fan base, but Grave of the Fireflies is a masterpiece film, listed on almost every ‘Top Movies’ list there is.  A truly great film that everyone must experience, just keep the tissue handy.


Only Yesterday

Only Yesterday

Omohide Poro Poro, also known as Only Yesterday or my prefered translation Memories Like Falling Raindrops, Takahata’s second Ghibli film would follow Grave of the Fireflies more mature styled themes. The film featured a more nostalgic and peaceful storyline, mixed with Ghibli’s signature female leads and astounding landscapes.

The film follows Taeko, a 27 year old woman from the city, returning to the countryside and falling in love with the peaceful balance of humanity and nature. A series of impressionist childhood vignettes are used to jump between the current and past memories of our main character.

onlyyesterday2

Takahata created an assault of nostalgia that explores tensions of family conflict, the anxieties of on-coming puberty, and the rush of the childhood crush. Everything in the film is driven from his signature character acting, with uplifting surreal periods to add levity. 

Disney would reject the film for release to the West, citing the mention of female puberty and menstrual cycles as too taboo. Disney held the rights until a Blu-Ray release in 2012, 20 years after its creation.


Pom Poko

Pom Poko

In 1994, Takahata wrote and directed his first fully original story. The film would maintain the surreal, humbling, and emotionally true narrative that Takahata was famous for. Miyazaki would suggest the film revolve around Tanuki, and the story focused on the nature and eco-friendly vision of the two Ghibli directors. It would suffer the same fate as other Takahata films, with Disney rejecting the film based on its ‘eco-terrorism’ narrative. It would finally get released in 2005, 11 years after it was made.

“I wanted the viewer to look from the point of view of the animals and try to make us perceive how our world appears to us seen from the outside. However, the terrorist label does not disturb me. … terrorism was sometimes a mean of asking attention of the established society. This state of mind existed until in the seventies. Terrorism sometimes had the capacity to make the world or people reflect on their condition.”

Pom Poko follows a clan of Tanuki (a wild dog that resembles a raccoon) that are in battle against the humans. Expansion of human settlement, mixed with the destruction of their habitat, leads the clan to fight back. Some plead their case through news casts, others fight directly, and some take an infamous boat ride. No matter the action, the core ideal of Takahata’s wish for nature and harmony comes through beautifully.

pompoko

The film has a more light design to add to the comedic and fanciful portions of the film. Takahata doesn’t miss a step though, Pom Poko is wonderfully animated and was perhaps the best Ghibli animation at the time. Being a major fan of folk lore and tradition, Takahata takes time to point out these missing pieces of our humanity in a fantastic parade sequence that also features major Ghibli characters.


My Neighbors the Yamadas

My Neighbors the Yamadas

The film is based on a serial manga of the same name, and features the core of Takahata’s ideal of simple lives with close families. Lessons and adventures are held within short vignettes that are comedic and simple. Due to the episodic nature, the film is perhaps better seen in portions versus one sitting. One sitting or multiple, Takahata’s film is wonderfully expressive and effective in delivering the story of simple pleasures.

Yamadas was a major break in the ‘Ghibli style’ of character design and animation. Takahata would make Studio Ghibli’s first fully digital film in order to produce a watercolor style that lets the world wobble in a fluid motion with the characters. It was quite impressive on release, but is a clear indicator of plans for Takahata’s next (possibly last) film.


The Tale of Princess Kaguya

The Tale of Princess Kaguya

Princess Kaguya was planned as a double feature with Miyazaki’s Wind Rises, a fitting recreation of their Grave/Totoro feature. It also looks to be Takahata’s last feature film, though he wavers on that fact. What a send off though, Princess Kaguya is majestic and beautiful in a way like no other Ghibli film before.

Based on the 10th Century Japanese folktale, and considered the country’s first prose narrative, The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter.  A farmer finds a magical girl within the bamboo forest and she turns into a child for the aged couple. The film follows the girl as she enjoys life and struggles against various social constructs to find bliss. A seminal tale of one’s life, it covers the ebbs and flows, drama and joy, and eventual but sudden end.

Takahata often talked of the art of the film and what led to this highly unique look. During production of Yamada’s and again Kaguya, he talked about an audience ‘filling in’ the white space with their imagination. This works to enhance the stunning movement and acting faces of each character, while drawing you to imagine the scene in a real setting. The audience could ‘look through’ the sketches to see the full reality of the world inhabited by the Princess Kaguya. Takahata envisioned an artist sketching the story as it unfolds before him, scratching the scenes into existence before the moment passes, sometimes struggling to keep up.

Takahata’s career makes an interesting line of progression to this masterpiece. Beginning with the understated flash of Horus that turned anime towards character studies. His years of quiet folktale adaptations that featured in every house across the 70’s. Chie the Brat, Grave of the Fireflies, and Only Yesterday explored the struggles that youth face and can be seen in various stages of the film. Finally, Yamada’s watercolor style and Winter Days experimental animations set the groundwork for the animation. The end result is a film that is moving and surreal, while staying emotional and understated. A masterpiece to end a Master Director’s career.


Final Thoughts

Forever in the shadow of his partner director, Isao Takahata is a Master Director that stands well above the crowd. His career spans 50 years featuring a chain of beloved series, masterpiece films, and experimental animation. Take some time to experience this great director’s emotional and beautiful work. Isao Takahata is one of Japan’s greatest story tellers and a perfect partner to Hayao Miyazaki. A man of vision and moral, to stand beside the man of creativity and unique worlds, the perfect combination.

Hayao Miyazaki Pt 2

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Hayao Miyazaki

Studio Ghibli Pt 2

MAL | Wiki | IMDB

Make sure to read Studio Ghibli Part 1, Hayao Miyazaki from the 1950’s up to 1996.

In 1996, Studio Ghibli was a house-hold name throughout Japan, with Miyazaki as the face of the company. His first 40 years making manga and animation was varied and fantastic. Widely acclaimed as one of the best in the business, and money pouring in from Totoro plushies, Miyazaki began in earnest to spread his vision around the world.


International Expansion

Studio Ghibli began a partnership with Disney to release the films in the US. Disney would begin by releasing Kiki’s Delivery Service in 1997, the most recent of Miyazaki’s films at the time. They also followed up with a promised release of Miyazaki’s upcoming film Princess Mononoke, though the dub took 2 years. Disney then started releasing the back catalog of films like Castle in the Sky in 2005, nearly 20 years after the original was made, and Totoro in 2006.

Along with the new exposure to his older works, Miyazaki’s upcoming works became film festival darlings and had the director traveling the world. He now ranks among the top 5 most recognizable Japanese in the world. But lets get back to 97.


PRINCESS MONONOKE

PRINCESS MONONOKE

One of the best films in animation, Princess Mononoke is a must see. Miyazaki’s 7th film took a step up from great to masterpiece. It would become the banner for Miyazaki’s career, and many dirctors list it as a major inspiration.

The story follows the journey of Ashitaka, removed from his clan after being cursed by a demon and forced to wander in search of a cure. He gets caught up in a war between factions and works to bring peace to both sides. Princess Mononoke would visit similar ideas as Nausicaa, exploring the battle of industrialization versus nature, with Laputa’s traveling adventure. The story took on a wonderful pace and excitement that features Miyazaki at his very best. Fierce, powerful, and thought provoking, the film was a drastic change in maturity.

“It was a huge risk, totally different from when I was making Kiki. I’d had that experience with Porco Rosso, the war happened (in the former Yugoslavia), and I learned that mankind doesn’t learn. After that, we couldn’t go back and make some film like Kiki’s Delivery Service. It felt like children were being born to this world without being blessed. How could we pretend to them that we’re happy?”

A big proponent of hand drawn animation, Miyazaki and his team of animators made over 144,000 cels with the director handling over 80,000 personally. The film is filled with stunning animation and vibrant displays of the smooth lifelike movement the hand painted art can make. Using the latest computer effects available at the time, Miyazaki developed new and ‘invisible’ techniques of blending in CGI to these drawings as well.

Studio Ghibli would release Princess Mononoke in 1997 and grab the title of highest grossing film in Japan until the release of Titanic. It would be released through Miramax and the deal with Disney in 1999 to the US and European markets. A full 2 years after the original release, the films conversion was a long and argumentative process.

Harvey Weinstein, head of Miramax, sent word to Japan that he planned to make changes to the film. In response, producer Toshio Suzuki sent Weinstein a katana with a message stating “No cuts.” Rumors were that Miyazaki sent it himself but he’s stated in an interview,

 “Actually, my producer did that. Although I did go to New York to meet this man, this Harvey Weinstein, and I was bombarded with this aggressive attack, all these demands for cuts…

I defeated him.”


Yoshifumi Kondou, a long time Ghibli artist and director, passed away in 1998 and Miyazaki would announce his retirement based on the events. During this semi-retirement, Miyazaki would work on 3 different stories that got rejected.

The first would be an adaptation of “A Mysterious Town Over the Mist” by Sachiko Kashiwaba, the second called Rin and the Chimney Painter, and a third with a male protagonist. All three series revolved around a bath house, something that interested Miyazaki as a child.

SPIRITED AWAY

SPIRITED AWAY

“For me, a bath house is a mysterious place in town. The first time I saw an oil painting was in a bath house. And there was a small door next to the bath tub. I wondered what was behind that door.”

The film follows a young girl getting caught up in the spirit world and working at a bath house to the gods. Her parents are turned into pigs and her identity is stolen. She is forced to mature, take the world head on in both the good and bad aspects, and define her new self. This journey of identity, maturity, nature, and humanity balanced with high fantasy, is really the signature of Miyazaki’s great mind. Wonderful beast and god designs, mixed with a uniquely Japanese onsen, crafted a very folk tale feel that makes this film of growing up become instantly classic. The animation, even 14 years later, is still the best you’ll find anywhere.

Disney chose to avoid the difficult times of Mononoke’s conversion, so they brought in the massive Ghibli fan John Lasseter. He had previously produced the US version of Porco Russo, and credits Miyazaki’s Lupin film as a major inspiration. Lasseter went all out and made one of the few dubs that really work.

Since Studio Ghibli retains all marketing rights to the films, Disney tends to give little to no budget in advertising and originally released it in only 151 theaters across the US. Spirited Away marked the moment that the world truly got on board the Miyazaki hype train though. After winning the Oscar for best animated film, along with a Golden Bear and a Japan Academy award, it would be released to over 700 theaters. It would also exist in a long gone time of Video Rentals, and had great success there as well.


Semi-Retirement

After Spirited Away, Miyazaki would ‘retire’ for a second time and worked on short films to show at the newly established Ghibli Museum. These films have had virtually no release outside of the in-house theater at the museum, so info is sparce. The films include:

The Whale Hunt | Koro’s Big Day Out | Mei and the Cat Bus | Flight Machines |

Water Spider Monmon | House Hunting | The Day I Harvested a Planet |

Mr Dough and the Egg |

He would also write and produce on the films The Secret World of Arriety and Up on Poppy Hill.

HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE

HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE

Meanwhile, first spotlight director Mamoru Hosoda was working at Studio Ghibli on making an adaptation of Diana Wynne Jones’ novel Howl’s Moving Castle. Many of his ideas were rejected and eventually he left the studio to make The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, and Miyazaki would step up to finish the project.

The film appears to be similar to Kiki’s Delivery, a light slice of life about growing up, but it takes a sharp turn mid way through as the film began to discuss war. This stark contrast led to some mixed reviews, especially from long time fans, but it still comes as a wonderful tale that is beautifully animated.

Miyazaki was vocally against the Iraq War, even refusing to go to the Oscars, to receive his Spirited Away award, in protest. It heavily influenced him while making Howl’s, and that can be seen in the later part of the film. Miyazaki became frustrated with the film and its reviews later on, which led to a big shift in his works.

“We don’t know why, but it had very extreme reactions: people who really loved it, and people who didn’t understand it. It was a horrible experience. I’ve been so tired out since Princess Mononoke. And to continue in this complicated direction, I thought, ‘We can’t do this anymore!’ Mononoke, Spirited Away, Howl… We decided to change direction. And that’s why we did Ponyo the way we did.”


PONYO ON THE CLIFF

PONYO ON THE CLIFF

Miyazaki returned to his true film love; imagination, childish wonder, and hand drawn animation. Ponyo is based on the Hans Christian Andersen story, Little Mermaid, and returns to that child like wonder from Totoro. The two children meet and explore this vast world of adventure while battling an evil sorcerer, Ursela eat your heart out. The story is wonderfully innocent, as if the children were telling it themselves.

With 170,000 cels it surpassed even Princess Mononoke as the largest undertaking for Miyazaki. He talked often about the joy he got from animating the waves and water effects in the film, and boy can you feel it.

“The part I love most about Ponyo is the end credits. There’s no job titles: I just put everybody who was involved in Japanese alphabetical order. So the big investors and the small little studios, they’re all treated equally in the end credits. And we don’t know where the producer is, where the director is. We even have the three stray cats that live round the studio — we even have their names on it, too!”


THE WIND RISES

THE WIND RISES

Since the release of Ponyo in 2008, Miyazaki had been working on a manga as a hobby. The Wind Rises manga was a dedication to the inventor of the Zero planes, Jiro Hirokoshi. Miyazaki’s family business had built parts for those planes during WW2, and his love of flight never left him. A fitting ‘final film’ if it stays true.

Originally, Miyazaki wanted to do a sequel to Ponyo framed around the earthquakes that hit Japan at the time. His producer suggested instead to turn this hobby manga into a feature film. The idea was refused initially until a staff member told Miyazaki, “children should be allowed to be exposed to subjects they are not familiar with”. Along with a Hirokoshi quote, “All I wanted to do was to make something beautiful”, eventually led to the films production.

An lovely romance holds the film’s center, and Miyazaki revels in reforming the ideals of a great man of flight. Some backlash came out due to Miyazaki’s pacifist nature and ignoring the war, but Wind Rises is solely focused on the beauty of life. Much like Porco Rosso, the film is a gorgeous love note to flight.


Final Thoughts

After his 6th retirement announcement, Miyazaki has focused on a Samurai historical manga and his short films. Takahata has assured fans that eventually the energetic director will return. Even if he doesn’t, his filmography is the most pure and hopeful gathering of stories you’ll find. Hayao Miyazaki is one of the greatest the medium, and film in general, has ever seen. A master through and through.