Another installment in the Celebrating 50 Years of Anime series of posts. It’s almost the half-way point! This time we have a master in training, someone whom you can describe with the words “circus” and “rape” in the same sentence, the invoker of super robot nostalgia, keymaker and animator extraordinaire, and finally, perhaps the only sane person left over at Studio GAINAX.
- Director: Aquatic Language (2002), Pale Cocoon (2006), Time of Eve (2010)
Yasuhiro Yoshiura reminds me a lot of Matoko Shinkai in that he’s another one of those “one-man-wonders” that puts entire studios to shame. He graduated from college in 2003 and immediately began to work on various anime related projects. He made various short films throughout the early 00s including the 10 minute OVA Aquatic Language which became a preview of sorts to Yoshiura’s CG-art style. He won numerous awards during his time as an indie artist, including the 2003 Outstanding Anime Award at the Tokyo International Fair (alongside Kenji Kamiyama’s Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex). In 2006, he scripted, directed, and produced the one-off OVA Pale Cocoon. Then in 2008, Yoshiura embarked on his biggest project yet, a 6-part ONA series titled Time of Eve. Yoshiura would establish Studio Rikka in the process. Time of Eve would eventually be adapted into a feature-length movie compilation in 2010.
Personal Favorite: Time of Eve
Time of Eve, much like Ghost in the Shell, envisions a futuristic society. Both movies depict a futuristic Japan where the presence of “androids” causes many political, ethical, and social problems. Time of Eve draws many references from classical works of science fiction. Most notably, Isaac Asimov’s Three Compliant Laws of Robotics. Conflicts soon arise when the main character discovers his personal android is frequently attending an underground cafe for robots. The rules of which state: “Within this establishment, there shall be made no distinction between humans and robots.” Time of Eve, is in many aspects, a modern retelling of an old story. It’s presentation speaks to the age-old discussion of ethics, and what constitutes equality among two beings. I’m eagerly awaiting Studio Rikka’s next project, be it a continuation of this movie or otherwise.
I mentioned back in the very first post that despite my best efforts to keep this list subjective, there will be moments where it completely crosses the line into the realm of personal bias. Well consider that line crossed. At a little over 30, Yasuhiro Yoshiura is one of the youngest director/producers in the business (and for sure the youngest one to make it on to this list thus far). Hell, even Matoko Shinkai is this guy’s elder by about a decade. Suffices to say, it’s a stretch to list Yoshiura among some of the most established first and second generation directors. With only a decade or so under his belt, Yoshiura’s legacy has yet to be fully realized. However, one thing he has been doing is making good use of his time. I’m highly looking forward to how Studio Rikka develops in the future. As it stands right now, the studio has a grand total of one staff member: Yoshiura himself (perhaps more if you count DIRECTIONS Inc). It’s literally a seed waiting to sprout. Yoshiura needs to obtain venture capital, hire a few animators, make Chayama Ryuusuke resident character designer, and then he’ll be good to go. You better believe we’ll be seeing a lot more of this man in the future.
- Director: Megazone 23 (1985), Violence Jack (1986), Battle Royal High School (1987), Angel Cop (1989), Gantz (2004)
- Animation Director: Super Dimension Fortress Macross: Do You Remember Love? (1984), Megazone 23 (1985)
- Animator: Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise (1987), Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door (2001)
Ichiro Itano began his career as just another animator. That would soon change. He was recruited by Yoshiyuki Tomino to serve as part of the Mobile Suit Gundam animation team. Tomino was impressed by Itano’s proficiency and thus invited him back for his next project Space Runaway Ideon. While working on these early real mecha shows, Itano slowly began to develop and master his unique style. Then came Macross, a show that would definitely not be the same if it weren’t for Itano. He was responsible for mechanical animation; he essentially took Kawamori’s variable fighter designs, and made them come to life. After Macross, Itano’s impressive work as an animator landed him several directorial works including the three-part OVA Megazone 23. He would later go on to direct Violence Jack and Angel Cop. In doing so, the world witnessed the “other” side of Itano. The side many of us would rather forget.
Personal Favorite: Megazone 23
I watched both Genesis Climber Mospeada and the original Macross and enjoyed both of them immensely. Combine elements from both series and you end up with this superb OVA titled Megazone 23. Originally designed to be a sequel of sorts to Mospeada, Megazone 23 features a stellar directorial staff which includes such greats as Shinji Aramaki, Noboru Ishiguro, and of course Ichiro Itano himself. The OVA is split up into three separate parts. While Part I and Part II are definitely something to see, I felt like in Part III, the show lost most of its focus and began to tread on the border of nonsense. Nevertheless, the show remains solid and enjoyable every step of the way and I enjoyed it as a whole. A perfect fuse of cyberpunk and space opera, Megazone 23 along with Ghost in the Shell were, in many respects, the groundwork for the popular Matrix trilogy years later. A great classic from the 80s, with transforming bikes to boot.
“Why fire one missile when you can launch a whole circus?” And thus, the “Itano Circus” was born. In a similar fashion to how everyone will remember Shinji Aramaki and Shouji Kawamori, not for their work as directors, but for their contributions as mechanical designers instead, Ichiro Itano will always be remembered for the circus. Don’t get me wrong, while his directorial foray led to the likes of Violence Jack and Angel Cop, both masterpieces in their own “special” way, Itano’s true legacy remains in the realm of transforming mecha and missile massacres. As an animator, Ichiro Itano revolutionized the action scene. No longer were scenes drawn with tons of cuts back and forth between two guys shooting at each other. Fighting sequences were beginning to look more dynamic, with fewer cuts, longer scenes, and more layers. He was instrumental to the success of Tomino’s Gundam and Ideon series, including one of my favorite, Ideon: Be Invoked. And let us not forget Macross, the show that has almost become synonymous with missile spam, twisting smoke trails, meticulously erratic trajectories, and fluid acrobatics. To this day, Macross: Do You Remember Love? is my favorite anime movie of all time, featuring superb animation for its time (and even trumping most shows today).
- Director: Giant Robo (1992), Mobile Fighter G Gundam (1994), Tetsujin 28-go (2004), Shin Mazinger Z (2009)
Yasuhiro Imagawa made his directorial debut in the Sunrise produced 1987 series Mister Ajikko. He would later return to Studio Sunrise several years later to direct Mobile Fighter G Gundam, the first of the franchise to be set in an alternate universe separate from the Universal Century timeline. But before that, he contacted legendary author Mitsuteru Yokoyama in hopes of bringing Giant Robo to anime. Imagawa had always been a fan of the great Yokoyama and was thrilled with the idea of working on Giant Robo. He received permission to use all of his intellectual property with the exception of the supporting cast of the manga and live action series. Thus, what started as merely an adaptation became a full on celebration of Yokoyama’s entire career. Giant Robo would be slowly released over the next decade or so, finally ending in 1998. Imagawa’s next big work was yet another remake of a classic Yokoyama story, this time Tetsujin 28. He would end the decade with the modern remake of the classic Go Nagai manga, Mazinger Z.
Personal Favorite: Tetsujin 28-go (2004)
I’ll admit, Tetsujin 28-go is something that newer fans must WANT to see before they have any hope of enjoying it. Personally, I wanted to see it, and therefore, I enjoyed the show a lot. For me, it was an experience akin to finally seeing the things I’ve been missing out on. Whether it was actually good or bad, I cannot say, mainly since the show really requires a temporal context and knowledge to review objectively. For now, I’ll stick by my personal bias and say the show was awesome. It’s not the greatest show, but it’s a damn good show nonetheless. A classic story re-envisioned for the 21st century that maintains the post-war atmosphere of the 50s and 60s. A nostalgia trip for some, but an amazing experience for all. (For those of you wondering where the hell is Giant Robo, I saved that one for Yokoyama himself).
This guy has made a lot of great things over the years. Yet all of them were, in some shape or form, remakes based off of previously successful franchises. He doesn’t really have that special something to call “his own” (Seven of Seven doesn’t count). Giant Robo and Tetsujin 28 will always be Yokoyama’s (though considering the liberties taken with Giant Robo, that statement remains disputable), Mazinger Z will always be Go Nagai’s, and while Mobile Fighter G Gundam was perhaps the most “original” gundam next to perhaps Turn A, it is still a descendant of the original Mobile Suit Gundam, brain child of Tomino. What this man did, however, is something that I personally am grateful for, and that is: he took the great works of decades past, and made them accessible to newer fans. Well guess who’s a newer fan? I am. As much as I can appreciate the original Gigantor and what it stood for, it’s animation quality is definitely a turn off for newer fans like me. Imagawa not only took these classic shows and brought them to a new generation, he did so with the blessings of the original creators. Thanks to him, now EVERYONE can enjoy Tetsujin 28 and EVERYONE can enjoy Mazinger Z.
- Animation Director: Birth (1984)
- Animator: Galaxy Express 999 (1978), Toward the Terra (1980), Genma Taisen (1983), Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984), Fushigi Yuugi (1985), My Neighbor Totoro (1988), Mononoke-hime (1997), Blue Submarine No.6 (1998)
Yoshinori Kanada began and ended his career as an animator. Not just any animator, but one of the most influential as far as the industry is concerned. His first works as an animator include Matsumoto’s Galaxy Express 999 and Rintaro’s 1983’s Harmagedon where he drew the detailed, motion-filled fiery dragon scenes. These two works became particularly influential especially when it came to Takashi Murakami’s Superflat art movement (I still don’t know what it is by the way). He also worked closely with Studio Ghibli’s Hayao Miyazaki in making several movies including Nausicaa and Mononoke-hime. He unfortunately died of a heart attack at the age of 57, leaving behind a career of many possibilities left unexplored.
Personal Favorite: Galaxy Express 999
This guy has worked on so many shows and movies; so many great titles to choose from. I might as well go with a classic Leijiverse installment: Galaxy Express 999. Kanada was one of an entire entourage of animators who worked on both the series and the movie. Kanada worked under Rintaro as Animation Director for the 1979 Galaxy Express 999 movie, then returned to do key animation for 1981’s Adieu Galaxy Express 999. As for the first movie, it’s pretty much 2 hours of epic science fiction action/drama mixed in with a coming-of-age story. Traditional Matsumoto heroes take a side seat to this story’s protagonist, the adolescent Tetsuro. Of course, to accompany him there is Maetel. Together they embark on a galactic journey aboard the Galaxy Express. Of course, since this is the Leijiverse, we do get to see Harlock and Emeraldes.
Kanada did not have many works as director, but he more than made up for it with his contributions to animation as well as contributions to the industry. A true pioneer of animation as a means of expressing freedom and movement, his works are cited as one of the influences behind Murakami’s Superflat art movement, a term that even today I’m confused as to what it exactly entails. He worked alongside Miyazaki and director-in-training Hideaki Anno in one of my favorite movies, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. As far as the industry goes, Kanada was largely responsible in the shift to animation “tiers.” With this new system, frames were separated into “keys” and “in-betweens,” separating the animation process into distinct stages. In most cases, the well established names would work on the key frames, while the rookies and less-established animators would work on the “in-betweens.” This process eventually grew to be used in all the big animation studios in Japan and to this day, it has had a lasting impact on the way anime is drawn and produced.
- Director: Daicon III (1981), Daicon IV (1983), Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise (1987), Mahoromatic (2001), Abenobashi Mahou Shoutengai (2002)
- Producer: Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995), FLCL (2000), Wonderful Days (2003), Shikabane Hime (2008)
Next we have Hiroyuki Yamaga, a man who currently resides over Studio GAINAX as its president and of its original founders back in 1984, I always thought of Yamaga as the “leader of the pack,” the sane foil to Hideaki Anno’s insanity. Before GAINAX became an official company, it was known as Daicon Film. The indie group consisted of seven college students and friends, of which included the likes of Hideaki Anno and Hiroyuki Yamaga himself. After the Daicon sensation, GAINAX was officially established. However, since all the founders were huge nerds themselves who simply wanted to turn their hobby into a profession, the studio has always maintained that “fan-friendly” environment (allowing fan fiction or doujinshi works, etc).
At age 24, Hiroyuki Yamaga would direct the movie titled Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise. The movie was officially released in 1987 and thus it became GAINAX’s first production as an official studio as well as Hiroyuki Yamaga’s debut as director. For much of the 90s, Yamaga would play the role of producer, letting Anno and Tsurumaki handle chief direction for series such as Evangelion and FLCL. In 2001, he would direct both seasons of Mahoromatic, a GAINAX-SHAFT co-production (the first of many to come, unfortunately). In 2002, he would direct the series Abenobashi Mahou Shoutengai, a show that won the Japan Media Arts Award for Excellence. The mechanical designs for Abenobashi would later be reused in 2007’s Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann.
Personal Favorite: Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise
Studio GAINAX’s first official production, and my did they start with a bang. I absolutely love Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise, I’m just going to flat-out say it. The movie itself is fantastic; a coming-of-age story featuring beautiful mechanical designs and science fiction back drop. After its release, Royal Space Force quickly gained legendary status as that “one awesome movie a bunch of no-name kids created.” It has since become an anime classic and one of my personal favorites. Commercially, however, Royal Space Force was a failure. While it put GAINAX on the map, it also put it in the red. For better or for worse, this would lead Yamaga and GAINAX down a different path than what could have been.
The legacy of GAINAX and of Royal Space Force is very much a tale of “what if.” As the story goes, GAINAX was originally slated to produce the sequel to Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise. The year was 1992, Hideaki Anno had just finished working on Nadia and was selected by Hiroyuki Yamaga to direct said sequel. The script and plot were finished, however, the project was dropped due to poor sales from the first movie leading to financial problems for both the studio and its sponsors. The death of the project freed Anno’s responsibilities so he work on various other things. This eventually led to the creation of Neon Genesis Evangelion several years later. Evangelion was the big break GAINAX needed as it was hugely successful both domestically and overseas. However, with Evangelion came a new business model, a model that Hiroyuki Yamaga would vehemently defend in subsequent years. A model focused primarily on profit, and a model that killed any chance of a sequel to Royal Space Force. Now, someone is bound to come around and say “But that’s okay! The decision to drop Royal Space Force was the only reasonable one. And besides, we got Evangelion because of it, and by extension, FLCL and Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann too.” But my question to all you fans out there: is it really okay? Does the end really justify the means?
What I’m about to say will most likely get me brutally murdered by 99% of all fans: But if I were GAINAX and had to choose between a successful future filled with Evangelion, or an ambiguous future with Royal Space Force, I would choose the latter. I realize I’m walking the plank leading to the ocean of heresy here, but is that not what GAINAX is all about? Is that not the message they so persistently beat into their shows, their characters, and down our throats? Is that not the spirit of the original group of friends who made the Daicon Animations? To go with emotion, rather than reason? To go with uncertainty instead of familiarity? To seize the opportunity?
The way I see it, GAINAX, like their protagonists, were faced with that very same fateful decision. Like Shinji, who was torn between accepting human instrumentality or rejecting it. Like Simon, who was torn between accepting the anti-spiral and regressing humankind, or trusting human evolution to responsibly govern the universe. Like Naota, who was torn between the upper class familiarity of Ninamori, or the alien insanity of Haruko. There stood GAINAX, torn between two possible paths. Shinji chose to reject instrumentality and to trust in an uncertain future. Simon chose to reject the anti-spiral’s logic and to put his trust into humanity and an uncertain future. Naota chose to reject Amarao, Ninamori, and Mamimi, opting instead to follow Haruko and her crazy, insane, alien, uncertain future. All the GAINAX protagonists chose emotion over reason.
I’m sure the people at GAINAX truly wanted for Royal Space Force to happen. I’m willing to bet there were long debates and meetings held over this decision. I’m sure the final decision passed down from General Products was met with heavy hearts from the staff. But for better or for worse, the decision that was made led to the reasonable outcome. It’s useless doting on the past, especially considering people need food to survive, and Evangelion paid the bills. However, if I had the power to change history, I think a future where GAINAX chose emotion over reason may not have been that bad.