Another installment in the (almost finished!) Celebrating 50 Years of Anime series of posts. This time we have someone who survived the teachings of a madman, cup noodles and red man, the best jewfro in town, and the executive of a well-established studio that seems to be making Visual Novel adaptations as of late. Brace yourselves, my inexperience oozes. Also, Giant Robots.
- Original Story: Urusei Yatsura, Maison Ikkoku, Mermaid Saga, Ranma 1/2, One-Pound Gospel, Rumic Theater, InuYasha
Rumiko Takahashi honed her artistic skills under the guidance of the master of Gekiga himself, Kazuo Koike, though one would have never have guessed it based on their works alone. While Takahashi never made it quite to the level of Wounded Man, Koike’s emphasis on character development did have a clear influence on Takahashi’s early works, namely Urusei Yatsurei and Maison Ikkoku in 1978 and 1980 respectively. The anime versions of both remain popular and are highly regarded to this day. In 1984, Takahashi embarked on her new manga Mermaid Saga, a noticeably darker approach then her early works. Then came what is perhaps the works that fans remember her for the most, 1987’s Ranma 1/2, followed by 1996’s InuYasha. To do this day, she is one Japan’s most prolific and successful women.
Personal Favorite: Urusei Yatsura: Beautiful Dreamer
As much as I enjoyed the power house series Maison Ikkoku, my favorite Takahashi work is still the 1983 movie Urusei Yatsura: Beautiful Dreamer, ironically the least “Takahashi” of the Urusei Yatsura franchise. Apparently the director at the time, Mamoru Oshii, clashed with Takahashi on the overall vision of the series. When all is said and done, I do prefer Oshii’s adaptation over the original manga, only from what I’ve seen though, which admittedly isn’t much. The character differences are subtle but noticeable, especially in the character Lum. However, this movie is more than just a glorified episode. Perhaps that’s the rift between Takahashi’s Koike-esque character-based storytelling, and Oshii’s pedigree for sending a message of sorts. Nevertheless, the Urusei Yatsura anime series was a team effort, and I would not have it any other way. The movie is awesome.
Rumiko Takahashi is certainly one of the most influential women in the Japanese anime and manga industry. Urusei Yatsura is often credited as the first work in anime and manga which jump started the magical girlfriend and harem sub genres. Her very popular series Ranma 1/2 brought these popular romantic comedy tropes to the United States, which effectively prepared us for the influx of rom-coms towards the late 90s and 00s. Much like Nasu and the visual novel phenomenon or Anno and post-Evangelion, her influence on the industry, monstrous as it may be, is not always welcomed by all. Find me a sane person that hears the word “harem” and immediately thinks happy thoughts. The truth of the matter is, these genres are here to stay, much to the chagrin of many. We can however appreciate early works such as those of Rumiko Takahashi.
- Director: Robot Carnival (1987), Akira (1988), Neo Tokyo (1989), Memories (1995), Steam Boy (2004)
- Script/Storyboard: Roujin Z (1991), Metropolis (2001), Freedom (2006)
Otomo began his career as a manga-ka, creating works such as Gun Report and the Memories anthology of short stories. His first work of science fiction, titled Fireball, was released in 1979 and is regarded as a milestone in Otomo’s career which influenced his later works. Then came the big one, Akira, which he began to write in 1982. It would eventually take him eight years to finish the manga. During that time, he directed short segments in the anthologies titled Robot Carnival and Neo Tokyo. His work on the Akira manga finally culminated in the 1988 movie adaptation, which was subsequently his debut as full-time director. To this day, many continue to site Akira as one of the most influential movies in anime history.
Personal Favorite: Akira
Every once in a while, something comes along that establishes a completely new level of fandom. Akira was that something. Much in the same vain as Robotech, Akira was instrumental in developing the budding fan base of the United States during the late 80s. The movie boasts superb production values, voice acting, story, art, everything, period. A masterpiece in every sense of the word. If you ask your average person who isn’t an anime fan what anime titles they have seen, chances are they’ll know about five Miyazaki films and Akira. That says something about all you “fans” out there who still haven’t seen this movie. Shame.
He directed Akira. I could end this paragraph right here, because honestly that’s all there needs to be said. The things Akira (as if that name needs anymore mentioning) did for anime fandom in America, for the golden age, and for animation in general is astounding to say the least. To this day, this movie remains my second favorite anime movie of all time closely losing out to Macross: Do You Remember Love. Sadly, this means Otomo’s entire career has and will always be compared to Akira. Steam Boy? Not as good as Akira. Roujin Z? Not as good as Akira. Metropolis? Not so much Otomo as it was Rintaro and Tezuka. And no, I have not seen the live action Mushishi movie. Is this man done? I think not. This guy still has a lot left in him. I can feel it. But what do I know? I was born after Roujin Z. Maybe I just want to see this man in his prime, in my time, for the first time.
- Original Story: Cyborg 009, Gilgamesh, Skullman, Kamen Rider, Robot Keiji
A large part of Shotaro Ishinomori’s early career was influenced by his mentor, Osamu Tezuka. As the story goes, Tezuka first noticed Ishinomori in 1955 when he submitted his work to a magazine’s talent contest. Impressed by his drawings, Tezuka invited Ishinomori to help him with the Tetsuwan Atom. As a result, Ishonomori’s style of art has become very reminiscent of classic Tezuka. Having the experience of working on Tetsuwan Atom, (as good as it gets) Ishinomori began working on his own original stories, eventually starting his own studio. Then came Cyborg 009 in 1963 and the rest is history. The franchise would spawn an entire new genre itself and would highly influence his later works. In the same way Tezuka mentored him, Ishinomori also began mentoring several up-and-coming manga-ka, including Go Nagai and Kazuhiko Shimamoto. Shimamoto was heavily inspired by his mentor and after Ishinomori’s death, he began working (with Ishinomri’s blessing) on a remake of Skullman. This would eventually turn into the 2007 Skullman anime series.
Personal Favorite: Gilgamesh
Bet you weren’t expecting that. That’s okay, I wasn’t either. Gilgamesh has its fair share of shortcomings. Yes the character designs were “unique” to say the least. 15 years is all it takes for society to revert to a gothic age? Nevertheless, mythology in anime is always interesting when done right, or at least when done with an interesting take. Shotaro Ishinomori’s works has, over the years, become a bastion of sorts for underrated stories that don’t get enough attention. Gilgamesh draws influence from the real life “Epic of Gilgamesh” as well as the gothic fantasy mold and new age cyberpunk genre. Personally, I felt the ending fit the overall message of the series rather nicely. Whether it has anything to do with the original manga, I have no idea.
Unlike Katsuhiro Otomo, Shotaro Ishinomori’s influence did not strike with overwhelming force overnight. Instead, he contributed in small bits and pieces throughout his career which ultimately added up over time. He was twice awarded the Shokakugan Manga Award, one of Japan’s most prestigious honors dating back to 1955. He was a very influential figure in all aspects of otaku fandom, manga, anime, and tokusatsu. His most popular early work is the immensely long-running and influential Cyborg 009 franchise, which went on to inspire several anime series and the live action super sentai series Kamen Rider. It was the very first story to feature a super powered hero team. All die-hard power rangers fans owe their childhood to Ishinomori. His legacy will forever be enshrined in the hearts of young children of all generations. To this day, super sentai continues to live on as well as modern remakes of his old stories, including 009-1 and Skullman.
- Director: Super Dimension Fortress Macross (1982), Super Dimension Century Orguss (1983), Megazone 23 (1985), Legend of the Galactic Heroes (1988), Choujin Locke (1989)
- Script/Storyboard: Samurai Giants (1973), Grendizer (1975)
- Producer: Mushishi (2006)
Tomino and Ishiguro. Two names synonymous with real mecha. Like Tomino, Ishiguro worked with Leiji Matsumoto as part of the legendary Yamato team. Yamato would later inspire the epic space opera Legend of the Galactic Heroes, but first came Macross in 1982. He became an integral part of his production company Artland Incorporated, which produced many of Ishiguro’s later works. A little tidbit on Artland Studios. They went from Legend of the Galactic Heroes, one of the greatest OVAs and space opera’s in anime history. To Mushishi, one of my personal favorite anime shows. To Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaou of all things. Why. Nevertheless, anime would certainly be missing many things if it were not for Noboru Ishiguro.
Personal Favorite: Legend of the Galactic Heroes
“There are few wars fought between good and evil, most are fought between one good and another good” – Yang Wen-Li
If I were to describe Legend of the Galactic Heroes with a single word, it would have to be “epic.” It has been compared to the likes of Star Trek, Star Wars, Shakespeare, and has become a classic in its own right throughout the years. It’s exactly what its name claims to be. The premise is one that we’ve all seen before; a war of ideologies, an epic struggle between the monarchic Galactic Empire, and the democratic Free Planets Alliance. The amount of characters in this show is massive, but at the end of the day, it really does come down to the two leaders: Reinhard and Yang Wen-Li. This truly is a masterpiece that everyone, not only anime fans, should see.
I think it’s time to talk about “that.” Once upon a time, Noburo Ishiguro and co. made this thing, you might have heard of it. It’s called Macross. I think it’s safe to say that for many fans, the name Macross is synonymous with anime. The legacy of Macross is basically the legacy of Ishiguro, and vice verca. Yes, Legend of the Galactic Heroes is one of the best OVA series, period. However, Macross and Robotech culture is a different beast entirely.
There exists an entire generation of fandom who first got into anime through Carl Macek and Harmony Gold’s Robotech. Unfortunately, it would be another decade or so before I was even born, thus I was not around to experience anime fandom in its early stages. My first series was instead Cowboy Bebop, the “gateway successor” so to speak to Robotech. However, one of the first series I got word of after discovering anime was none other than the Robotech: The Macross Saga, otherwise known as The Super Dimension Fortress Macross. I think everyone will agree that while Macross is not the best show in anime history, it certainly is a turning point in the history of anime and fandom.
It’s hard for me to talk about something as iconic as Macross in an objective manner, thus I’ll enlighten you with a thought experiment. Lets say the entire world and humankind is on the brink of destruction (much like the citizens of Earth during the Macross saga). In order to preserve our planet’s legacy and culture, the leaders of the world decide to launch a capsule into space containing all the great books, paintings, films, etc so that one day, aliens may discover what made us special. The only issue is, capacity is limited, so each culture must choose its most important relic to preserve for all eternity. The relic that represents the legacy of anime would definitely have to be Macross. Not a single anime does a better job than Macross at encapsulating emotion, growth, storytelling, passion, and the human condition. If there is, I’d like to know.
- Original Story: Tetsujin 28, Giant Robo, Babel II, Sally the Witch, Princess Comet, Outlaws of the Marsh (adaptation), Romance of the Three Kingdoms (adaptation)
Mitsuteru Yokoyama worked at a movie company during his younger years where he pursued his mangaka career in his free time. His manga debut, Otonashi no Ken caught the eye of Osamu Tezuka, much like the case with Ishinomori (damn Tezuka sure knows how to pick em). In 1956, the Tetsujin 28-go manga began its serialization. It would eventually grow in popularity to rival that of Tetsuwan Atom. In 1963, the anime version of Tetsujin 28 was produced and for the first time, super robots were seen in anime. His career was only beginning however, as in 1964, in established Hikari Production which produced many popular hits in both anime and manga. One of these came in the form of Sally the Witch, the very first magical girl anime to air on television. He spent much of his later career working on comics based on original stories, including the classic Chinese novels, Water Margin and Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
Personal Favorite: Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still
Giant Robo is show made in the 90s that encapsulates all the wonderful aspects of the 50s and 60s. It is in essence, one big homage to Tetsujin 28, super robots, science fiction, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and everything Yokyoyama. Giant Robo is, to this day, my favorite super robot series, partly due to the fact that it is one big homage to mecha and old school science fiction. The art style, despite being a 90s production, is noticeably in line with that of the original Tetsuwan Atom-esque, black and white scheme. Giant Robo is anime and science fiction at its finest. One of the anime’s greatest tragedies is the how Giant Robo was left incomplete. The show stands on its own quite fine, however, there is so much more to the story that was never explored. Apparently, the story was supposed to be three parts. Will we ever see the other two? One can only dream.
Much like Noboru Ishiguro, Mitsuteru Yokoyama is a man who I cannot imagine anime without. Sally the Witch marked the first appearance of the magical girl in anime (though it had already been done in manga). Still, it was a milestone which ultimately helped develop the henshin magical girl staple. What’s interesting is how Yokoyama got his inspiration from the American sit-com Bewitched. There’s food for thought all you “mahou shoujo” fans, super robots are where it’s at. Of course, no Yokoyama discussion is complete without Tetsujin 28, regarded as the very first robot anime to appear on television. There are still a select few true veterans of anime who can claim they saw Gigantor (as it was called in English) during its initial run. The original predates my existence by about three decades, however thanks to various reboots and remakes, all of us can experience new Tetsujin 28 in anime (2004) and live action (2009) form. Or you can go watch Giant Robo instead.