Another installment in the Celebrating 50 Years of Anime series of posts. This time we have an environmentalist who happens to be into transforming robots, the man tasked with guarding Anno’s weed stash, the man tasked with guarding Miyazaki’s weed stash, a man who has no stash but does have “that” beard, and finally a man without a stash nor beard but wouldn’t be caught dead without them sunglasses on.
- Director: Macross Plus (1994), Earth Maiden Arjuna (2001), Macross Zero (2002), Genesis of Aquarion (2005), Macross Frontier (2008)
- Original Story: Vision of Escaflowne (1996)
- Mechanical Designs: Daimos (1979), SDF Macross (1982), Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory (1991), Patlabor 2: The Movie (1993), Macross Plus (1994), Macross 7 (1994), Macross Dynamite 7 (1997), Aquarion (2005), Eureka Seven (2005), Macross Frontier (2008)
Shoji Kawamori began his career as a screen writer and mechanical designers. One of his first works was the original Super Dimension Fortress Macross which he served as co-creator and mechanical designer. After Macross he began to branch out from being solely a mecha designer. In 1994, he created the next installment in the Macross saga with Macross Plus, a collaboration with Shinichiro Watanabe. Macross Plus established Shoji Kawamori as not only a prominent mechanical designer, but also a very capable director. He would later go on to create the concept behind Vision of Escaflowne as well as several Macross installments including Zero and Frontier. He is currently an executive of the animation studio Satelight.
Personal Favorite: Macross Plus
Variable fighters? Check. Love triangles and missile spam? Check and check. Looks like classic Macross storytelling to me. Macross Plus is the first “true” sequel to the original Super Dimension Fortress Macross (after the failures of Macross II). It marked the directorial debut of Shinichiro Watanabe and Shoji Kawamori who co-directed the OVA. It was also the series that (arguably) jump-started Yoko Kanno’s surge into fame. Despite having a beautiful music score, and excellent characterization, the true strengths of Macross Plus lies with its animation. At the time of its release, its animation was ground breaking. It managed to seamlessly combine of hand painted cells and computer generated imagery, setting the bar and paving the way for future animators. Watanabe and Kawamori certainly did Ishiguro justice with this epic OVA.
In spite of his work on Macross Plus and Macross Frontier, Shoji Kawamori will be remembered not as a director, but as a mechanical designer. His mecha resume needs no introduction, having worked on the legendary Super Dimension Fortress Macross, the show which jump-started his path to prominence. The “children” of Kawamori include the famous variable fighters seen in Macross, the Ingram designs from Patlabor, and even the memorable Swordfish (Spike’s ship) from Cowboy Bebop. During the 80s, this man was an integral player in shaping modern real robots and the transforming mecha sub genre. Can you name the seven variable fighters pictured above?
- Director: Kare Kanno (1998), FLCL (2000), Diebuster (2004), Rebuild of Evangelion (ongoing movie series)
- Animation Director: Nadia: Secret of Blue Water (1990)
Kazuya Tsurumaki was an integral member of the GAINAX team throughout the 90s. He acted as assistant director in the popular series Neon Genesis Evangelion, working as Hideaki Anno’s protégé. The two had a clear influence on one another as much of the direction and designs behind Evangelion were that of Tsurumaki. In 1998, Tsurumaki took over for Anno after disputes with the original author caused Anno to leave the Kare Kanno project. In 2000, Tsurumaki officially debuted as director for the popular OVA Furi Kuri or FLCL. In 2004, he directed Diebuster, a sequel to Anno’s Gunbuster. He is currently working closely with Anno at Studio Khara, developing the Rebuild of Evangelion movie series, retelling the original Evangelion story.
Personal Favorite: FLCL
One of the animators over at GAINAX (it might have been Tadashi?) said in an interview once that after Evangelion, the staff needed to recuperate. FLCL, in a way, is the foil to Evangelion. The brain child of Tsurumaki, FLCL is definitely an amazing piece of work. It depicts the same struggles as Anno tried to do in Eva, but does so in 6 episodes, with twice the ferocity and none of the pretentious imagery (oh shit, I said the P word, sound the amber alert). What I mean is, Tsurumaki comes clean and admits the imagery in FLCL does NOT mean anything, whereas Anno continues to insist the interpretation is up to the fans, only fueling the ambiguity. It matters not as however as FLCL has a plethora of other strengths to rely on, including the superbly done animation for its time (thank you Production I.G), and its memorable soundtrack (thank you very much I like you LITTLE BUSTERS). It is, to this day, my absolute favorite anime series of all time.
As far as GAINAX goes, everyone recognizes Hideaki Anno, but very few people have even heard of Kazuya Tsurumaki, let alone what he’s accomplished. Tsurumaki’s legacy has yet to fully realized. He is still rather young when it comes to anime directors. He has a lot of years left in him. Who knows what he’ll do after Gainax and after Khara. As it stands right now, FLCL is definitely the work of the century and the one that defines his career. Is it his first and last masterpiece? Part of me says yes, it’ll be hard to top the show that tops all other shows. Another part of me believes no, it’ll be difficult, but it can be done.
- Director: Hols: Prince of the Sun (1968), Heidi Girl of the Alps (1974), Grave of the Fireflies (1988), Only Yesterday (1991), Pom Poko (1994), My Neighbor the Yamadas (1999)
- Producer: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984), Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1985), Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)
Isao Takahata’s journey to fame was a tough one. He originally applied to Toei after a friend recommended he become an assistant. However, due to a surplus of staff, Takahata had to prove himself worthy of director’s chair amongst many capable colleagues. That opportunity finally came when he was appointed director of 1968’s Hols: Prince of the Sun. As much as I praised Takahata and the rest of the productions staff for this movie, in truth, the movie itself was a box office failure. Yasuo Otsuka himself described the process as a painful one for rookie director Takahata and that he was glad he personally did not have Takahata’s responsibilities. Afterwards, Takahata left Toei to embark on other projects of which spanned from directing episodes of Lupin III to working on Nippon’s World Masterpiece Theater. After the success of the Lupin III movie, Castle of Cagliostro, Takahata once again teamed up with Miyazaki to form Studio Ghibli. The studio would quickly become one of the most renowned animation studios in the world.
Personal Favorite: Laputa: Castle in the Sky
Miyazaki will always be at his best when collaborating with Isao Takahata, and vice verca. The two comprise one of the industry’s most memorable directing duos, rivaling similar 1-2 punch teams such as Dezaki-Sugino, Nagai-Ishikawa, and Koike-Kojima. Both directors are proficient enough by themselves. When combined however, they become capable of so much more, as evident in Laputa: Castle in the Sky. The movie followed Nausicaa and was one of the Studio Ghibli’s initial works after forming. As a child, I first remember seeing trailers for this movie during the previews for various Disney films such as Lion King and what not. It looked cool, but back then there was no way for me to actually check it out. It wasn’t until WAY later that I actually saw the damn thing and my god was I impressed. Where the hell was I all those years?
The “other” half of Studio Ghibli, Isao Takahata’s legacy is as grand, if not more so, than his close friend and colleague Hayao Miyazaki. It’s a shame how most American anime fans won’t hesitate twice about placing Miyazaki as their number one director, but when it comes to Takahata, they start drawing blanks. This the man who began his directing career an entire decade before Miyazaki did. He was also responsible for producing Nausicaa and Laputa, two of Studio Ghibli’s best works. Post-1986, I would even argue that Takahata’s works were, by in large, superior to Miyazaki’s (though 1997’s Mononoke-hime will definitely put up a strong counter argument). The bottom line is, Miyazaki won the oscar and Takahata didn’t. However, that doesn’t diminish his legacy one bit. Isao Takahata will always be remembered as an integral figure in the history of Ghibli as well as the history of anime.
- Director: Perfect Blue (1997), Millennium Actress (2001), Tokyo Godfathers (2003), Paranoia Agent (2004), Paprika (2007), The Dream Machine (2011?)
- Script/Storyboard: Roujin Z (1991), Magnetic Rose (1995)
Satoshi Kon grew up as a fan of anime from the 70s including Space Battleship Yamato and Mobile Suit Gundam. He began his professional career as a manga-ka, acting first as Katsuhiro Otomo’s assistant. He would go on to draw some of the art for the Akira manga and the Memories anthology. Slowly but surely, Satoshi Kon began to climb the industry ladder, eventually landing himself a position as script writer for Otomo’s Roujin Z and the Magnetic Rose segment in Otomo’s Memories anime adaptation. In 1997, he debuted as director in the psychological thriller Perfect Blue. From there, his road to fame officially began. Several years later, he would direct Millennium Actress, followed by Tokyo Godfathers. In 2004, he directed his first TV series titled Paranoia Agent. His latest work was 2007’s Paprika. He died before the completion of his fifth movie, Dream Machine, leaving his final film in the hands of Studio Madhouse.
Personal Favorite: Paranoia Agent
When it comes to cinematography, Satoshi Kon is the top dog. No other director in anime comes remotely close to the Kon’s ability to tell a story using images themselves as a form of narrative. The best example of this is Perfect Blue, but his subsequent works, especially Paprika, are no exception. This brings me to Paranoia Agent, his only work that is not a movie. Yet, in a way, it retains all the storytelling and cinematic charms that make his movies so great. Kon revealed that the premise for Paranoia Agent came from ideas left from his movies that were unused. Much like Perfect Blue and Tokyo Godfathers, the show is a form of meta-fiction that deals with the psychological aspects of society. It’s unique in that its a show with mystery elements but an episodic structure. It’s construction is perfect, a feat indeed. This is Satoshi Kon at his best.
We will never witness this man’s true potential. That is the cold hard truth. This man died at a time where anime needed him most, leaving behind a future brimming with high expectations. He started his career writing scripts and screenplays in collaboration with Katsuhiro Otomo. His first directorial work, Perfect Blue is still one of my favorite movies of all time. However, it didn’t stop there, it got better, and better, and better. Every subsequent work that this man does always blows away my expectations. By Paprika, I was sold completely. This man is simply not capable of making anything short of a masterpiece. For more on this man’s life, work, and legacy, I recommend reading ANN’s column dedicated to Satoshi Kon.
- Director: Macross Plus (1994), Cowboy Bebop (1998), Samurai Champloo (2004), Baby Blue (2007)
- Script/Storyboard: Eureka Seven (2005), Noein (2005), Ergo Proxy (2006), Tetsuwan Birdy DECODE (2008)
- Music Producer: Mind Game (2004), Michiko to Hatchin (2008)
Shinichiro Watanabe began his directorial career by co-directing the Macross sequel, Macross Plus. His debut as full-time director came in 1998 with the memorable TV series Cowboy Bebop followed by the 2001 movie Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door. Watanabe would go on to direct 2004’s Samurai Champloo, produced by studio Manglobe and the spiritual successor to Cowboy Bebop. In recent years, he has begun working as a producer for various shows including music for Masaaki Yuasa’s 2004 movie, Mind Game, as well as Manglobe’s 2008 TV series Michiko to Hatchin.
Personal Favorite: Cowboy Bebop
Cowboy Bebop is timeless. It is set in a futuristic universe, but features a number of anachronistic elements, its characters, it’s music, even the many towns depicted. At any rate, this show is definitely a landmark for both the director as well as anime as a whole. It boasts fluid animation, fast paced action sequences, awesome soundtrack, and a very distinguished cast of characters. Cowboy Bebop was my first anime series and also my gateway drug. It follows a group of bounty hunters or “cowboys” who travel the solar system in search of bounties. There’s Jet the ex-cop, Faye the femme fatale, Edward the genius kid hacker, and Spike the tragic hero with a dark past. Together they make one hell of a cast. Even after more than decade, it has remained a favorite amongst most of anime fandom (from non-fans to elitists alike). Cowboy Bebop is a timeless masterpiece that will certainly not be forgotten in years to come.
This man has only directed three major works so far (not counting various shorts for anthologies). The thing is, those three works alone secure this man a place in the record books of anime. His directing style centers heavily on the use of fluidity, music, and clashing genres. All of this was pioneered, enforced, and perfected throughout his career. If Cowboy Bebop is not a testament to this man’s genius, than I’ve been living under a rock all these years because apparently I haven’t seen shit. Watanabe is the first anime director I was ever exposed to and to this day, he remains one of my all-time favorites. After all, it doesn’t get much better than Macross, Bebop, and Champloo.