Long time no see. This past week my laptop finally croaked. I ended up losing all my files and most of my anime. I also completely missed the wave of finales these past few days, so now I’ve got some major catching up to do. Go me.
Anyways, all that’s settled now so I can finally get back to finishing this thing. Here’s the next installment in the Celebrating 50 Years of Anime series of posts. This time we have the people behind the music, some big name animators, some bigger name mechanical designers, and perhaps the biggest name of them all.
From the beginning, I planned to open this list not only to directors, but for all visionaries that contributed to the anime art form. Suffices to say, music is an integral part of anime we love and the position of “music composer” is an important one for any production team. Over the years, I’ve had the fortune and privilege of seeing (and hearing) some amazing anime and musical scores. So, in lieu of reaching the half-way point on this list, here’s a section dedicated entirely to the people behind the music.
Several of my favorite anime music composers include:
- Susumu Hirasawa (Detonator Orgun, Berserk, Millennium Actress, Paranoia Agent, Paprika)
- Yoko Kanno (Macross Plus, Escaflowne, Cowboy Bebop, Wolf’s Rain, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex)
- Masamichi Amano (Battle Royale, Miyuki, Maetel Legend, Giant Robo feat. Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra)
- Toshio Masuda (Excel Saga, Jubei-chan, Now and Then Here and There, Naruto (original), Mushishi, Ghost Hunt)
- The Pillows (FLCL, BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad, Moonlight Mile)
And much, much more!
- Director: RahXephon (2002, episode 15), Dennou Coil (2007)
- Animator: Ghost in the Shell (1995), Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995), End of Evangelion (1997), Perfect Blue (1998), Blood: The Last Vampire (2000), FLCL (2000), RahXephon (2002)
Mitsuo Iso is the only person so far that I’m unable to find a birth date for. Either I’m not looking hard enough, or this is the first time the internet has failed me (it’s probably the former). If I had to make an estimate, I’d say mid 60s to early 70s. This would essentially make him contemporaries with the likes of Tetsuya Nishio, Hiroyuki Imaishi, and Shinya Ohira, all big name “new age” animators. He began his career working on several Gundam installments including 0080 and Char’s Counterattack. He later worked with GAINAX on End of Evangelion where he animated parts of the memorable battle between Asuka’s Unit 02 and the mass-produced Evas. His other major contribution during the 90s involved animating the first half of the final battle between Major Kusenagi and the “Spider Tank” in Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell. It wasn’t until 2002 when he finally made his directorial debut in RahXephon episode 15. His most recent work was the 2007 series Dennou Coil, an original creation, written and directed by Iso himself.
Personal Favorite: RahXephon
RahXephon was one of the first anime shows I had ever seen, so naturally I am partial. I actually saw RahXephon before Evangelion, which worked out rather nicely in the long run since the former never seemed like a show meant to be dissected. If Evangelion was the social commentary, RahXephon was the love song. Pure brilliance from start to finish. It’s backdrop is frequently laden with pre-Columbian and Mesoamerican imagery. It draws many structural influences from those old Kaiju stories. The mechanical designs for the RahXephon heavily resembles that of Raideen. Yet behind all the mythical mechas, secret factions, Evangelion-esque exposition, religious symbolism, and intricate characterizations, there lies the love song. RahXephon, at its core, is a love story.
RahXephon was not directed by Iso, however. It was a joint creation by directors Yutaka Izubuchi, Tomoki Kyoda, and the newly established Studio BONES. Iso was in charge of digital work and after-effects. He had little to do with the actual story. In fact, of all the screenwriters who contributed to the show (which included the likes of Yoji Enokido and Chiaki Konaka), Iso only wrote one episode. But here’s the thing. He not only wrote it, he also directed, storyboarded, and animated the entire episode by himself (with minimal assistance). An entire episode entrusted and subjected to one person’s vision, direction, and talents. This process has become known as Sakuga animation and it was Iso’s moment in the spotlight.
I was originally not a very huge fan of CG. Even now, I’m still not that fond of it. However, if there’s one man that’ll make me eat my own words, it’s Mitsuo Iso. After seeing his work and reading his interviews, I realized that this was a man who knows his priorities and is not about to let the industry’s standards and norms affect his end product. As an animator, he is one of the best. A pioneer of “new realism” that I can personally get behind. His style was unique in that it featured “full 3-frame” cell animation without in-betweens, more-or-less challenging the industry standard set by Yoshinori Kanada years ago. After working on RahXephon, Iso was asked what plans he had for the future. He said he had no real intention of becoming a director or scriptwriter. Five years later, the highly anticipated Dennou Coil was finally completed after nearly 10 years of production. Well-played Iso, well-played.
- Director: Vampiyan Kids (1999, pilot), Mind Game (2004), Kemonozume (2006), Kaiba (2008), The Tatami Galaxy (2010)
- Animator: Crayon Shin-chan (1992), Noiseman Sound Insect (1997)
Masaaki Yuasa rose to prominence during the 90s animating for Crayon Shin-chan. Those who saw the original series were granted a glimpse of Yuasa’s genius though his unique style of movement and character designs. He would take his style and apply them to later projects including Shinya Ohira’s Hakkenden OVA. In 2004, he made his official directorial debut in the Studio 4c movie Mind Game. To this day, Mind Game remains my favorite movie from Studio 4c. He would later become involved with Studio Madhouse, directing a string of TV shows throughout the latter half of the 00s. In 2006, he directed the TV series Kemonozume which also featured the talents of the up-and-coming Kenji Nakamura. In 2008, he directed Kaiba. His latest work is 2010’s The Tatami Galaxy.
Personal Favorite: The Tatami Galaxy
The Tatami Galaxy is a show that caught me completely by surprise. I had known from people talking about it that it was good, but it wasn’t until I had finally seen the show for myself that I realized it was damn good. Yojou-han Shinwa Taikei (or The Tatami Galaxy) is very much a self-contemplative work. It aired during the latter half of the noitaminA programming block during the spring 2010 season. The show as whole captivates everything that noitaminA stands for: quality and aesthetic entertainment for the older audience. The Tatami Galaxy is pure genius in both narrative and artistic style. The cyclical story and captivating atmosphere paints each character in multiple facets. The narrative is purposefully fast, witty, and disjointed, a stark deviation from almost all of its contemporaries. The show as a whole acts a beacon of hope for quality animation in the future. The Tatami Galaxy is one that is not to be missed.
Talk about unique. Here’s a man whose “wild free form” and no-bounds style of animation puts Hideaki Anno to shame. Masaaki Yuasa has made some “trippy” things in the past. Mind Game, in particular, begs the question: what exact combination of hallucinogens were in effect that led Studio 4c to make such a thing? All jokes aside, Yuasa is perhaps one of the most focused, determined, and critical visionaries in anime today. He is a man driven to tell his story in his own way. His directorial debut was a masterpiece no matter how you look at it. Mind Game would become a huge influence in much of Yuasa’s later works including Kaiba and The Tatami Galaxy. If I were Madhouse right about now, I would try VERY hard to get this man on board for future projects. But truth be told, Yuasa has always been a freelancer, a rebel not about to let any one place tie him down for too long. Perhaps it’s better that way. He’s an artist, in every sense of the word. The anime industry could use more like him.
- Director: Megazone 23 (1985), Metal Skin Panic (1988), Genesis Survivor Gaiarth (1992), Appleseed (2004), Appleseed EX Machina (2007), Space Pirate Captain Harlock (2012?)
- Mechanical Designs: Genesis Climber MOSPEADA (1983), MASK (1985), Megazone 23 (1985), Bubblegum Crisis (1987),
Shinji Aramaki is one of anime’s most prolific mechanical designers. His designs ranged from the powered exo-skeletons seen in Bubblegum Crisis to the transforming robots in Genesis Climber MOSPEADA. His signature niche (or at least the thing I recognize most about him) is the transforming motorcycle. We see this many times including in the 1985 OVA Megazone 23, which he co-directed, and the 1987 OVA Bubblegum Crisis. More recently, he has headed a number of CG anime projects including Appleseed, Appleseed Ex Machina and a segment of the Halo Legends anthology.
Personal Favorite: Bubblegum Crisis
Robots, powered exoskeletons, science fiction, transforming bikes, mechs, cyberpunk, bladerunner, and 80s women, otherwise known as Bubblegum Crisis. This entire OVA is pretty much an amalgamation of everything I love about anime. I make this comparison often and I’ll make it again: since we still don’t have a decent Appleseed adaptation, I’ve always thought of Bubblegum Crisis as the next best thing. Out of all the mechanical designs that Aramaki has been involved with, I think Bubblegum Crisis has the best variety. Everyone seems to remember Priss’s blue hard suit and transforming motorcycle, which I’ll admit is pretty freaking awesome. However, my personal favorite power suit from Bubblegum Crisis has got to be Linna’s green hard suit (ribbon cutters and explosive knuckle bombers, do want).
Shinji Aramaki did for power suits and transforming bikes what Shoji Kawamori did for jets and variable fighters. How many times have you seen Priss’s iconic transforming power suit? or Shogo’s Garland? I’d go as far as putting them at the same level as Kaneda’s bike from Akira. Even Shirow’s Landmate designs, he took in their original form and made them his own in the Appleseed movies. These images have become ingrained within anime itself and so has the name Shinji Aramaki. True, his pedigree for directing movies isn’t the best and I’m not a huge fan of the full CGI as of late (Appleseed and Ex Machina), but I do enjoy his action-packed style of storytelling. He brings these awesome mechs and makes them move and come to life. He did it with the Veritechs, he did it with the Landmates, let’s see if he can do it once again with the Arcadia.
- Director: Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro (1979), Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984), Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986), My Neighbor Totoro (1988), Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989), Porco Rosso (1992), Mononoke-hime (1997), Spirited Away (2001)
Who is Hayao Miyazaki? Hmm… just some director who made a couple of movies. Oh and one of them won an oscar. Yeah that pretty much sums it up.
This man is one half of the driving force behind Studio Ghibli and the reason why a lot of us are anime fans. He and Takakata were trained by Yasuo Otsuka way back in the day when Toei and Tezuka’s company were going head to head. Miyazaki began his career as an animator, and episode director for the Lupin III TV series. His first directorial work came in 1979. Miyazaki would collaborate with Otsuka on the memorable Lupin III movie Castle of Cagliostro. In 1984, he worked with Takahata on Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, which eventually became the catalyst for the formation of Studio Ghibli. The rest, as they say, is history. Miyazaki would go on to become the single most recognizable figure in the anime industry, especially overseas in the United States. In 1997, Mononoke-hime became the highest grossing movie in Japan for that year. In 2002, Spirited Away became the first Japanese anime film to win an Academy Award.
Personal Favorite: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
Nausicaa is also another movie I’m very partial to since I saw it early on and it has since become the one I’ve used to compare all subsequent Ghibli works. I have NOT read the manga, which I’m told features a more complete story than the movie. Still, I love the movie for what it is and to this day, no other movie by Miyazaki has been able to top it. I’m a believer that the 80s were truly anime’s golden time. It was the age of Macross, the age of Gundam, the age of the OVA, the age of Royal Space Force, the age of Akira, and in the middle of it all, there was Miyazaki. There was Nausicaa.
Do I really need to spell out this man’s legacy?