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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

toeipero

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.

castle in the sky

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.

totoro-image-4

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

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.

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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.

Junichi Sato

Junichi Sato Junichi Sato

MAL | Wiki | IMDB

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

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

Quick pause:

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

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

Pause Over


A Technical Start

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

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

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

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

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


Ikuhara pls!

MAPLE TOWN MONOGATARI

MAPLE TOWN MONOGATARI

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

Adorable

Adorable

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

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


SAILOR MOON

SAILOR MOON

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

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

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

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

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

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


The New Generation

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

Fear the Overlords

Fear the Overlords

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

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

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

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


Hal Film Maker and the ‘Healer of Anime’

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

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

PRINCESS TUTU

PRINCESS TUTU

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

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

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

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Everything Is Amazing

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

ARIA THE ANIMATION

ARIA THE ANIMATION

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

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

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


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

Cough KpeopjnAhem, sorry bout that.

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


Final Thoughts

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

Takahiro Omori

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Takahiro Omori

MAL | Wiki | IMDB

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

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

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


The New Era

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

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

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

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


Koi Kaze

Koi Kaze

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

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

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


A Shift to Mystery

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

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

So friggin great!

Accept Koi Kaze’s Glory!

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

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

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


Baccano!

Baccano!

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

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

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


DURARARA!

DURARARA!

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

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

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


A Return to His Roots

Princess Jellyfish

Princess Jellyfish

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

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

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Your Face Right Now

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


Final Thoughts

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

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

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

Losing my mind

Losing my mind

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