Another installment in the Celebrating 50 Years of Anime series of posts. This time we have a the womanliest manly-man in existence, a chain smoker who isn’t afraid to stick it to the establishment, a Walt Disney fanatic, a guy who trolled me with his pseudonym, and a man with a basset hound fetish.
- Director: Star of the Giants (1968), Shin Obake no Q-tarou (1971), Yuusha Raideen (1975), Combattler V (1976), Voltes V (1977), Daimos (1978), Daltanius (1979), Rose of Versailles (1979, episodes 1-18)
Nagahama began his career directing certain episodes of Obake no Q-tarou. His first instance as full-time director came in 1968 with Star of the Giants. However, the real history begins with 1975’s Yuusha Raideen, which he collaborated on with Yoshiyuki Tomino. Raideen acted as a spring-board of ideas which affected his next three, and perhaps his most famous, works. These are 1976’s Combattler V, 1977’s Voltes V, and 1978’s Daimos, collectively referred to as the “Nagahama Robot Romance Trilogy” or the “Toei Romantic Trilogy.” And then there was Rose of Versailles…
Personal Favorite: Rose of Versailles
Once upon a time, Tadao Nagahama and Osamu Dezaki decided to adapt the manga Rose of Versailles into a 40 episode anime series. And all was right with the world. The end. I’ll admit, I’m a hard-coded science fiction fan, this includes anything from giant mecha, transforming robots, and cyberpunk to space opera and Star Trek. However, there was something peculiar about Rose of Versailles, a historical fiction shoujo manga turned anime series, that captivated me from the moment I began watching. If anything, the fact that I marathoned this show is a testament to its greatness. It can be described as a love letter to France, taking place in the turbulent years leading up to the French Revolution. The show alone reaffirmed my trust in anime as a all-encompassing medium of storytelling. Rose of Versailles is a testament to anime’s cultural potential and one that is surely not to be missed.
The “Robot Romance Trilogy” is exactly as it sounds. Classic 70s style super robot action combined with a certain aura of literary romanticism. Nagahama brought the ideas pioneered in Raideen to fruition by combining mecha and drama, a revolutionary concept at the time. It may not seem that important nowadays, or so the newer generation of anime fans (of which I’m a part of) may think. After Evangelion, us “new” fans will always associate mecha and drama by default. We will never know what it was truly like in the old days. What’s the big deal right? Truth be told, it was a HUGE deal back then when super robot shows existed merely to entertain young boys and sell action figures. Nagahama and the Toei Romantic Trilogy was the first to break away from the established mold and move the genre forward.
- Director: Dororo (1969), Ashita no Joe (1970), Ace o Nerae! (1973), Rose of Versailles (1979, episodes 19-40), Space Adventure Cobra (1982), Onii-sama e (1991), Black Jack (1993), Golgo 13: Queen Bee (1998)
Mushi Productions. It’s like the ultimate training grounds for talented people. Osamu Dezaki was no exception. He began his career as an animator for Osamu Tezuka’s Tetsuwan Atom TV show. Dezaki quickly proved that he had the capacity to create great things and by the year 1970, he was appointed chief director of Ashita no Joe. The show would solidify Dezaki as a premier director, here to stay. Starting with Ashita no Joe, the rest of the 70s was Dezaki’s playground. He produced many memorable hits during this time including the classic shoujo series Ace o Nerae! in 1973. He capped off the 70’s by collaborating with Tadao Nagahama on Rose of Versailles, of which he directed episodes 19-40. With the completion of Rose of Versailles, the stage was set for the 80s Golden Age, and Dezaki was not one to miss out on the action.
During this time, he adapted a plethora of popular manga stories including Buichi Terasawa’s Space Adventure Cobra, Takao Saito’s Golgo 13, Rumiko Takahashi’s One-Pound Gospel, and eventually Osamu Tezuka’s classic manga Black Jack in 1993. The Black Jack OVA would continue to be periodically released over the course of seven years and was perhaps Dezaki’s final great masterpiece before his death. Shortly after passing away, it was announced that the Black Jack OVA would receive one final installment as a show of respect and gratitude to Dezaki’s career and his contributions to anime.
Personal Favorite: Black Jack
Black Jack is yet another Osamu Tezuka original manga series which spanned numerous volumes and across various other franchises. Dezaki’s 10 episode OVA series and movie follow-up is still, in my opinion, the best the franchise has to offer in spite of the many TV reboots throughout the years. Dr. Black Jack himself is a wonderfully created character, almost a 70s crossover between Ginko, Duke Togo, and Dr. House. The OVA features both Tezuka and Dezaki’s unique touch, which in the end, contribute to a finer product. Many people criticize the OVA for not being a “true” representation of Tezuka’s Black Jack. I would have to disagree as I still think the OVA manages to capture each of the characters and fleshes them out over a longer period of time (per episode). Those looking for an episodic narrative and medical intrigue, definitely watch Black Jack.
What I love about Dezaki, and probably the thing I’ll miss the most after his untimely death in 2011, is his daring approach to all of his works. He was known for his meticulous attention to detail and was not afraid to diverge from set precedents. This drew a lot of criticism from fans of the source manga, especially Ashita no Joe and Black Jack. The difference in the latter can be seen clearly by comparing Dezaki’s 1993 Black Jack to Black Jack TV or Black Jack 21 which encapsulate the classic Tezuka look. Despite the change, it was still a damn good show. One of the reasons why I love it so much is how it features Tezuka’s story, Dezaki’s direction, and Sugino’s character designs. A glorious combination of story and patented Dezaki visual style. This style is perhaps the most unique aspect of Dezaki’s works. He will often fade out his scenes into water-color “snapshots” of the characters (as if it were a painting) to emphasize the dramatic elements of the scene. He also employed the “repetition” technique where a crucial action would be sped up, and repeated in fast succession, adding emphasis on that particular action. This can be seen in his early work Ashita no Joe and was a huge influence on subsequent boxing powerhouse series Hajime no Ippo. Eventually, Hiroyuki Imaishi would take this to a whole new level in FLCL (guitar shotgun though the door seen from TWO separate angles).
- Animation Director: Panda and the Magic Serpent (1958), Little Prince and the Eight-Headed Dragon (1963), Hols: Prince of the Sun (1968), Puss in Boots (1969), Future Boy Conan (1978)
- Character Designs: Dog of Flanders (1975)
Yasuji Mori was one of Toei’s earliest members, having been around back when it was called Toei Doga. His first major involvement was animating the 1958 classic Disney-esque movie Panda and the Magic Serpent. Ten years later he would work on Hols: Prince of the Sun alongside Yasuo Otsuka, Hayao Miyazaki, and Isao Takahata. Together, Mori and company essentially changed how modern animation was conducted. Nowadays, if you look back at Panda and the Magic Serpent, the contrast is glaringly stark when compared to Hols. His later involvements include animating the 1969 Puss in boots and 1978 Future Boy Conan. He also did character designs for Dog of Flanders, a 1975 TV series based on the novel of the same name.
Personal Favorite: Hols: Prince of the Sun
Now is as good a time as any to mention Hols: Prince of the Sun, a hugely influential movie in terms of animation and experimentation. First off, the production team for this single movie is jaw dropping. It may not have seemed that way back in 1968 since many members of team were still no names trying to build a career for themselves, Miyazaki being one of them. But dear God if these people were alive now, I would pay to get these guys together again for one final creation of epic proportions. The film was produced by Toei and featured Isao Takahata in his directorial debut. Yasuo Otsuka and Yasuji Mori acted as senior animators, while a young Hayao Miyazaki did art designs and helped with key animation. I dare you to come up with a better production staff than that. The only thing I can think of that honesty comes close is perhaps Megazone 23 (Aramaki-Ishiguro-Itano-Hirano). Oh right, I forgot, I’m supposed to be talking about Hols: Prince of the Sun. What can I say, it’s a good classic movie that everyone should check out at some point. Personally, I thought it aged quite well.
An interesting tidbit about Yasuji Mori: He was supposedly the very first person in Japan history to be credited as “animation director.” An honor befitting of the man who pioneered early animation techniques along with many other famous Toei members. His work was integral in establishing the animation norm during the early days of anime. He collaborated with many prominent and up-and-coming figures when he was with Toei and later when he joined Nippon Animation. Among these were Yasuo Otsuka, another influential figure in the development of animation styles. He was senior to both Miyazaki and Takahata while at Toei and I’m willing to bet he influenced the dynamic duo in more ways than one.
- Director: Space Pirate Captain Harlock (1978), Ganbare Genki (1980), Genma Taisen (1983), Dagger of Kamui (1985), Neo Tokyo (1989), Doomed Megalopolis (1991), Metropolis (2001), Endless Odyssey (2002)
Guess what? Rintaro also began his career as an animator for Tezuka’s Mushi Productions. That’s right, yet another unforgettable figure trained by Osamu Tezuka. Rintaro’s first involvement was in the 1958 film Hakujaden or Panda and the Magic Serpent where he worked as an in-betweener for the legendary Yasuji Mori. After directing several episodes of Tetsuwan Atom and Kimba the White Lion, he left Mushi Productions in 1971 to embark on other projects. Working with Tezuka apparently wasn’t enough to satisfy this man, because in 1978, Rintaro landed himself a role as head director in Leiji Matsumoto’s follow-up to Space Battleship Yamato titled Space Pirate Captain Harlock. He would later direct both Galaxy Express 999 films. Towards the latter half of the 80s, Rintaro collaborated with Katsuhiro Otomo and Yoshiaki Kawajiri in the 3-part anthology Neo Tokyo. In 1991, he directed the 4 part OVA Doomed Megalopolis based off the classic Japanese poem. In 2001, Rintaro finally returned to his roots by directing the Osamu Tezuka original story Metropolis into a feature-length movie. The film was nominated for multiple awards.
Personal Favorite: Metropolis
Metropolis is like an amalgamation of awesomeness. I personally consider one of Tezuka’s more “daring” original works. In a way it reminds me of Akira, with Tezuka’s character designs, Otomo’s screenplay and script, and of course, Rintaro’s genius direction. The sci-fi elements are all present boasting an insightful and intelligent story while maintaining superb production values to boot (expect no less from Madhouse). I absolutely loved the futuristic city backdrop. There’s just something different about the art and designs that separate it from the classic cyberpunk backdrops yet retains a certain aura of mystery and darkness. I guess the closest thing that I could compare it to would be something along the lines of Cannon Fodder. In any case, Katsuhiro Otomo was involved with both projects so the influence is clear as day. Metropolis is a great movie that fans of Rintaro, Tezuka, Otomo, and science fiction in general ought to see.
I’ll personally remember Rintaro for helping to bring so many awesome stories to realm of animation. He was never tied down by a specific studio and thus worked with many great visionaries including Tezuka and Matusmoto. He is renowned for a reason, whether it be Captain Harlock, Galaxy Express 999, or Metropolis. He was never tied down to a studio either, allowing him to work with some of anime’s greatest visionaries including Tezuka, Matsumoto and Otomo. As a director, he is one of anime’s best.
As a side note, every time I see his face I immediately think of the cover for Doomed Megalopolis.
- Director: Urusei Yatsura (1981), Dallos (1983), Angel’s Egg (1985), Mobile Police Patlabor (1989), Ghost in the Shell (1995), Innocence (2004), The Sky Crawlers (2008)
- Script/Storyboard: Gonsenzo-sama Banbanzai! (1989), Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade (1998)
Mamoru Oshii’s directorial debut was in 1981’s Urusei Yatsura TV series, based off the original manga by Rumiko Takahashi. His work on the long running TV series landed him directorial positions on the first two Urusei Yatsura movies which differed greatly in tone. This was the birth of modern Oshii at work (he would later relinquish directing duties due to clashes with Takahashi). After Urusei Yatsura, Oshii would become an integral part of the 80s golden age and OVA bloom. 1983’s Dallos became the first ever anime to be labeled an OVA. He closed the 80s by directing the Patlabor TV series as well as the movies. Then came the 90s and perhaps the work that characterizes his style and career the best: Ghost in the Shell, the movie based on the manga by Shirow Masamune. A masterpiece that would eventually prompt Production I.G. to solicit Oshii for a sequel. Oshii’s latest movie was 2008’s The Sky Crawlers, in his words “one of the most difficult adaptations yet.”
Personal Favorite: Ghost in the Shell
The original Ghost in the Shell remains, to this day, my favorite Mamoru Oshii work and my second favorite Shirow Masamune adaptation. Depending on what you think of anime and science fiction fandom, Ghost in the Shell may very well be the last great harbinger of “classical cyberpunk.” The original 1995 film featured an enthralling story and cutting edge animation. In my opinion, Ghost in the Shell remains one of the few films which managed to strike the perfect balance between computer generated graphics and traditional cell animation. There are very few people who can match Oshii’s expository prowess while maintaining a meaningful message and also entertain. Satoshi Kon is perhaps one of the few people comparable to Oshii in this regard. Ghost in the Shell is a 90s classic and I highly recommend it to all anime fans that have yet to see it.
My nickname for this man is “oh shit.” As in “oh shit its Oshii, better put on your monocle and top hat.” In all seriousness, when it comes to writing a script, few can stand up to the modern legend that is Mamoru Oshii. If Kazuo Koike is a master of characterization, than Mamoru Oshii is a master of puppets. His stories throughout the years have always been plot-centric, not once letting up on meaningful exposition. His characters, especially post-Patlabor, are more doll than human, opting instead to focus on atmosphere and story using characters merely as a tool for achieving such means. His style of storytelling is unique, confusing, and perhaps even off-putting to some people, but over the years, Oshii has proven to me and the world that he is a genius. I will always remember Oshii for taking Masamune Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell and making it his own. The last true bastion of hope for classic cyberpunk. Now if only he would stop making live action movies and come back to animation.