Another installment in the Celebrating 50 Years of Anime series of posts. This time we’ve got a hipster, a golfer, a man who most likely profits way more from making music videos than producing anime, a man who established his own studio while still in school, and finally, IT’S CHUCK FROM THE FUTURE!! Without further ado, commencing unhealthy amounts of Studio 4c fanboying.
- Director: Ayakashi Classic Japanese Horror (2006), Mononoke (2007), Trapeze (2009), [C] Control: The Money of Soul and Possibility (2011)
The new kid on the block, Kenji Nakamura has already built himself a respectable resume. He started his career rather quietly during the 90s, working behind the scenes as production coordinator for Cowboy Bebop and Serial Experiments Lain. He would later direct several episodes of The Big O during it’s run in 1999. However, it was the latter half of the 00s when Nakamura really began to break out. He signed on with Toei Animation to direct the last third of 2006’s Ayakashi: Japanese Classic Horror which aired on the newly created noitaminA programming block on Fuji TV. Apparently, he was doing something right as they made the “Bakeneko” arc from Ayakashi, the one that Nakamura directed, into a full length TV series in 2007 titled Mononoke. Nakamura has since, remained a staple of noitaminA broadcasting, eventually directing yet another Toei series Trapeze or Kuuchuu Buranko in 2009. His latest work is titled [C] Control: The Money of Soul and Possibility.
Personal Favorite: Trapeze
I love Mononoke, but when I think of Kenji Nakamura, Trapeze is what instantly pops into my mind. Theres something peculiar about this show. Once I began watching it, I couldn’t stop, a rare case especially given the show’s episodic nature. In spite of the innovative animation, superb soundtrack, and interesting characters, those are not what sets this show apart from the rest. The answer lies in the Denouement. It takes great directorial skill and writing prowess to end each and every episode spectacularly, start of scratch the next episode, and repeat for an entire season. Trapeze does exactly that, from start to finish.
Interesting fact: Kenji Nakamura worked with a certain other “trippy” director on a show titled Kemonozume. The guy I’m talking about is, of course, Masaaki Yuasa of Studio 4c fame. I will bet money that Nakamura took Yuasa’s Mind Game to heart when he made Trapeze since whenever I see Nakamura, I can’t help but be reminded of Yuasa. Both their styles are distinctly different from the anime norm, characterized by very surreal visuals and frequently contrasting live action photography with animation. Both are exceptional visionaries whom we can expect great things from in the future.
- Original Story: Lone Wolf and Cub (manga), Samurai Executioner (manga), Path of the Assassin (manga), Hannape Bazooka, Wounded Man, Mad Bull 34, Crying Freeman, Lady Snowblood
Kazuo Koike started his career working under Takao Saito, creator of Golgo 13. I would imagine Koike slaving away in Sato’s studio repeating the grand total of (one) face that Duke Togo has for hours upon hours. Actually that’s a lie. Kazuo Koike stands out among his contemporaries due to the fact that he doesn’t actually draw his own characters. His craft is writing the story, leaving the artwork to his underlings. Over the years, he has collaborated with many artists including the great Goseki Kojima. The Koike-Kojima duo would go on to make the masterpiece Lone Wolf and Cub in 1970. If Koike had stopped here, he would go down in history as a legendary storyteller and author of samurai period pieces. Needles to say, he was not finished yet. Years of Golgo 13 had hardened this man into a beast, and he would soon unleash his madness among the innocent masses. I can only imagine people’s faces as they began to read Samurai Executioner and Path of the Assassin, expecting Lone Wolf and Cub but only finding rape.
Personal Favorite: Mad Bull 34
I want to say Lone Wolf and Cub, but that has yet to be adapted into anime form. That leaves my options limited. We’re talking about the master of Gekiga here and it just so happens that the Koike works that actually did receive a port to a form other than manga are as follows: Wounded Man, Crying Freeman, Mad Bull 34, Hannape Bazooka, and Lady Snowblood if you count live action. That’s like choosing between violence, rape, violence and rape, violence, rape and revenge, and violence and rape set in New York City. In the end, I decided to go with violence and rape set in New York City.
Kazuo Koike is a whole lot of things. You can view him as a master storyteller, visionary, and respectable teacher. Or you can look at his later works and cry tears…tears of joy. I’m not going to lie, marathoning Crying Freeman, Wounded Man, AND the Mad Bull 34 OVA in one sitting was an experience, a glorious experience. Anime needs a man like this. A man to put all the timid studios, who tip toe around what’s “appropriate” via Tien beams and steam, in their place. He even established his own school to teach the form of storytelling known as Gekiga (intended for older audiences). You have to love this guy for everything he has done. It seems as if everyone is always wondering “what will happen to anime after Miyazaki passes away.” What they REALLY should be talking about is “what will happen after KAZUO KOIKE passes away.” There are people very capable of filling Miyazaki’s shoes. But who will fill Koike’s?
- Director: Robot Carnival (1987), Magnetic Rose (1995), Noiseman Sound Insect (1997), Eternal Family (1997), Animatrix: Beyond (2003), Digital Juice (2003), Genius Party: Dimension Bomb (2008)
- Animator: Akira (1988), Neo Tokyo (1989), Macross Plus (1994)
Koji Morimoto was heavily inspired by the super robot show Golden Warrior Gold Lightan while still an up-and-coming animator. This prompted him to become a freelance animator, eventually leading to the founding of Studio 4c. He frequently collaborated with his mentor (and also famous animator) Takashi Nakamura on various animation endeavors including animating the “Order to Stop Construction” segment of the anthology film Neo Tokyo. This eventually led to other involvements with Katsuhiro Otomo, including 1988’s Akira, which both Nakamura and Morimoto acted as animators. In 1995, Morimoto was again part of a three-man directing team, this time in Otomo’s Memories anthology. The segment Morimoto directed, titled Magnetic Rose, was the longest of the three and arguably the best. Throughout his later years, he has focused primarily on various shorts and other Studio 4c projects.
Personal Favorite: Magnetic Rose
Magnetic Rose is everything it claims to be, and more. It is a jarring and stunningly artful story about a group of space debris workers and their encounter with a mysterious opera singer. It features the scripting brilliance of Satoshi Kon, directorial genius of Morimoto, as well as the musical brilliance of Yoko Kanno. The entire segment feels similar to the “Rats in the Attic” episode of Cowboy Bebop. It is, by far, the most visually impressive segment, and arguable the best. The characters are amazingly well fleshed out given their short amount of screen time. The story is hauntingly beautiful and capped by an abstrusely calm ending. Magnetic Rose is beautiful.
I’m a huge fan of Studio 4c and everyone involved with their work. Morimoto is no exception, especially given the fact that he co-founded the studio. If I had to describe the studio in one word, it would be “different.” This little blurb isn’t really about Morimoto’s legacy, but more about Studio 4c’s legacy, as the two are closely related. When it comes to works of “experimental” nature, Studio 4c is top dog. Sometimes these endeavors end in masterpieces like Mind Game. Sometimes they end in failure, like Spriggan. But no matter the case, Studio 4c still stands out amongst all other studios for making the leap despite the risks. Mind Game was Masaaki Yuasa’s directorial debut for crying out loud, and look how that turned out. Tekkon Kinkreet was another experimental work which carried the honor and risks of having an American director. At the end of the day, there really is no one who can stand up to Tanaka, Morimoto, and the rest of Studio 4c. By the way, I realize it’s actually pronounced “studio four degrees celsius,” I’m just too lazy to type the symbol.
- Original Story: Crusher Joe, Dirty Pair, Dirty Pair Flash
Haruka Takachiho was still a university student when he established his own production studio, Studio Nue, in 1972 with several famous visionaries. He would graduate in 1975 and write his first novel in 1977. The novel was Crusher Joe: Rentai Wakusei Pizan no Kiki, which he co-created with colleague Hosono Fujihiko (who later joined Studio Nue as an animator). Thus began Takachicho’s career as one of anime’s most memorable science fiction authors. He would later go on to author all of the Dirty Pair novels which won him two Seiun Awards, once in 1980 and again in 1986. Throughout the 80s, his stories would see many memorable anime adaptations. In 1983, Crusher Joe was adapted into a full length movie with its follow-up movie being released in 1989. In 1985, Studio Sunrise adapted Dirty Pair into a TV series which spawned a number of movies and OVAs.
Personal Favorite: Dirty Pair: Project EDEN
I’ve always had a soft spot for the Lovely Angels, ever since I first saw the duo in that one movie scene in Crusher Joe. I guess I’ve always thought of Dirty Pair as an anime within an anime. The way the stories are presented and all the crazy stuff that happens within the Dirty Pair universe makes for a stark contrast with the Crusher Joe universe. Project EDEN uses the same basic formula seen in the TV series: weapons, destruction, and weapons of mass destruction. Certainly not hard science fiction by any means, but entertaining nonetheless.
Formerly known as Crystal Art Studio, Studio Nue is one of anime’s oldest and most respected. Founded in 1972, the same year as Sunrise, the studio is known for its contributions to anime in the form of science fiction and mecha. The story of Studio Nue reminds me a lot of GAINAX, whom everyone knows these days. Before they formed Studio Nue, the founding members were merely fans of the medium. Having fell in love with stories such as Tetsuwan Atom at a young age, they simply wished to create their own masterpieces. Much like Anno and Yamaga, the founding members of Nue were college students at the time of its formation. As fans of anime, Haruka Takachiho, along with his friends and classmates would go on to become the production force behind Yamato, Combattler V, and of course, Macross. The legacy of Haruka Takachiho, of Kazutaka Miyatake, of Shouji Kawamori, and the rest of Studio Nue, is a testament to anime’s ability to bring fans together to create things. Great things.
- Director: A Tree of Palme (2001), Fantastic Children (2005)
- Animation Director: Yatterman (1977), Golden Warrior Gold Lightan (1981), Future Police Urashiman (1983), Akira (1988)
- Voice Talent: Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt (voice of Chuck)
Takashi Nakamura began his career as an animator and slowly made his way up the production ladder. His earlier works involve doing key animation for 1977’s Yatterman as well as serving as animation director for Golden Warrior Gold Lightan in 1981. The latter of which went on to inspire Koji Morimoto, founder of Studio 4c. Nakamura would go on to do character designs and animation work for 1893’s Future Police Urashiman. Then came 1988’s Akira, a movie where his entire career as animator would be put to the test. He worked under director and known perfectionist Katsuhiro Otomo, and alongside animator Satoshi Urushihara in what is still one of the best animated movies in the history of anime. After Akira, he would go on to direct several movies and TV shows including Catnapped!, A Tree of Palme, and Fantastic Children.
Personal Favorite: Fantastic Children
One often does not think of Fantastic Children immediately when the topic of conversation is Yatterman, Urashiman, Gold Lightan, or Akira, especially given it’s relative young age compared to other works my Nakamura. Fantastic Children is definitely an underrated show and I can sort of see why. It takes a while to actually get into. It’s a show where the children take the front seat in the story, and it’s reflected in the art and character designs. The keyword however is “story.” Fantastic Children is perhaps the closest modern anime can get to being an epic. It springs several different characters, factions, and plot lines at the viewer at the beginning, with no intention of explaining what the hell is happening. The exposition in this show is non-existent during the first half. It’s confusing to say the least, but it’s the type of confusing that works in such a mysterious atmosphere. A great mystery, science fiction series from 2005. Don’t miss it!
I’ve only mentioned a few of this guy’s works, namely the major shows and movies one can associate with the name Takashi Nakamura. Stuff like Akira is almost a given. However, that does not begin to scratch the surface of this guy’s contributions to anime. In the past, he has worked with Miyazaki as part of the animation team behind Nausicaa. His post-Akira works often times stay towards the lighter sides of things. He did character designs and storyboards for Yasuhiro Imagawa’s 2004 Tetsujin 28 remake. More recently he has been working as Art Director for Sunrise’s award-winning movie Colorful, as well as Brain Base’s remake of the classic Go Nagai manga, Dororon Enma-kun Meeramera. As if that’s not enough, he also spends his off days playing pet dog (and punching bag) to both Panty and Stocking.