Finally, my little celebratory outburst is coming to a close. It’s been fun being 10% informative and 90% fanboy. At any rate, the madness stops here. This time: a Captain, a Robot, a Demon, a Prince, and a God. These people run the show, and even though some of them are not with us anymore, the show must go on.
- Director: Space Battleship Yamato (1974)
- Original Story: Space Pirate Captain Harlock (1978), Galaxy Express 999 (1978), Queen Millennia (1981), Arcadia of My Youth (1982)
- Supervisor: Interstella5555 (2003)
Matsumoto made his debut in 1953 as a manga author and artist. In 1971, he released Otoko Oidon, a series chronicling the life of a ronin, his first big break. He spent nearly 20 or so years training and honing his skills in preparations for his REAL masterpiece Space Battleship Yamato which came out in 1974. Matsumoto directed the series and worked in conjunction with producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki and also a young Yoshiyuki Tomino who did storyboards. His work in Yamato eventually gave rise to several spin offs, most notably, the Captain Harlock series which evolved into a separate phenomenon all by itself. His work carried into the 80s and 90s with various side story projects including various sequels and side stories set in the Harlock universe. In 2001, Matsumoto supervised the project Interstella5555, a music video set to Daft Punk’s discovery album which came out in Japan several years later.
Personal Favorite: Captain Harlock: Arcadia of My Youth
Arcadia of my Youth is the prequel movie to the Space Pirate Captain Harlock TV series. It came out in 1982, several years after the original series’ run and it established the back stories of Phantom Harlock as well as many other Leijiverse characters. We see Tochiro Oyama and the origins of the Arcadia. We also see Queen Emeraldes, an old friend of Harlock’s, who would soon get her very own spin-off series. Arcadia of my Youth is not only a prequel to the Harlock saga, it has also been described as the central hub of sorts for which many spin offs originated from. The movie retains the Leiji Matsumoto trademark atmosphere and character designs and is a great introduction to the Leijiverse proper.
This guy spent the first decade or so of his career writing shoujo manga. Thus, when his big break came in the 70s, his earlier work and influence was definitely taken into account. His trademark style is characterized by romantic space operas and heroic but frail heroes, evident in works such as Captain Harlock, Queen Emeraldes, Galaxy Express 999, Space Symphony Maetel, and Queen Millennia. His greatest legacy and masterpiece, however, is and always will be Space Battleship Yamato. Not only did it bring the established space opera genre to anime, it offered a means for understanding the thoughts and motives of those involved with the actual war. In the United States, Star Blazers as it was called, established an entire culture of fandom that persists even to this day (and the reason why Nishizaki wouldn’t let the franchise go). Yamato was an integral step in brining anime to recognition overseas and anime would most certainly not be the same without it. Even today, the Harlock archetype can still be seen in shows like Last Exile (Alex Row) and Cowboy Bebop (Vicious). The star system will forever live on!
- Director: Triton of the Sea (1973), Yuusha Raideen (1975), Mobile Suit Gundam (1979), Space Runaway Ideon (1980), Aura Battler Dunbine (1983), Heavy Metal L-Gaim (1984), Overman King Gainer (2002)
- Script/Storyboard: Astro Boy (1963), Ashita no Joe (1970), Neo Human Casshern (1973), Space Battleship Yamato (1974), Combattler V (1976)
In 1963, Tomino joined Osamu Tezuka’s Mushi Productions, thus starting his illustrious career. There, he was mainly tasked with scripting and storyboarding various shows included the legendary Tetsuwan Atom. His training at Mushi Productions would soon turn him into one of Japan’s premier figures in anime. Tomino would go on to join Studio Sunrise, then known as Nippon Sunrise, where he quickly became one of the industry’s most famous directors. It was at Sunrise where he pioneered the Real Robot genre with 1979’s Mobile Suit Gundam. Over the decades, Tomino has remained a force to be reckoned with, directing many masterpieces including Space Runaway Ideon, Aura Battler Dunbine, and numerous Gundam sequels and spin offs. His work has won him many awards and honors over the years including the 2006 Animage Anime Grand Prix award, and the Tokyo International Anime Fair award for best director.
Personal Favorite: Space Runaway Ideon
Space Runaway Ideon is not what most people think of when they hear the name Tomino. The vast majority of the time, people think of one of the many UC Gundams or perhaps some of the AU Gundams. However, 1980’s Ideon has as much influence, if not more, than the Mobile Suit Gundam of one year earlier. Many classic “Tomino tropes” are evident as far back as Ideon, including his very popular nickname. The movie finale, titled Ideon: Be Invoked, is by far the greatest part of the show. Not only did it feature revolutionary animation styles and techniques pioneered by a young Ichiro Itano, it went on to inspire Hideaki Anno’s End of Evangelion. When all is said and done, the Gundam franchise is certainly Tomino’s greatest franchise and legacy, but Space Runaway Ideon will always be my personal favorite.
This man’s resume is massive. Not only does he shell out masterpiece after masterpiece (and some not-so-masterpiece), he has worked with some of anime’s finest over the years. He was an integral part of Tezuka’s Mushi Productions, he worked with famous Toei director Tadao Nagaham on Raideen, and he was also a part of Leiji Matsumoto’s Yamato team. The guy is a machine (no surprise from the man who created real mecha). Tomino certainly had a hand in shaping both giant robot anime, and anime in general. And let’s not forget his depression years which earned him the nickname “kill em all” Tomino (to be fair, Ideon existed before that period of time). Still, as long as anime exists, Tomino’s legacy is guaranteed. People will remember Tomino not for one particular show, movie, or popular trope, we will instead remember him as a pioneer of anime and mecha.
- Producer: Devilman (1987)
- Original Story: Devilman, Mazinger Z, Getter Robo, Dororon Enma-kun, Cutey Honey, Grendizer, Gaiking, Violence Jack
Word has it that when Go Nagai was growing up, he had a near death experience. This ultimately changed his view of life and was what prompted him to quit school and start writing manga. He submitted numerous works as an amateur manga-ka before finally being recognized by the great Shotaro Ishinomori. Apparently these works were very mature for the manga medium which had remained rather tame since the split with Gekiga after the war. In 1965, he joined Ishinomori’s studio, thus beginning his professional career.
As a manga author and artist, Go Nagai was a very controversial figure. He was part of the initial launch of Shonen Jump magazine in 1968, however his works pushed the boundaries of the medium as well as the patience of the PTA. Harenchi Gakuen, his first popular work, introduced eroticism in shonen manga which landed him severe criticism. However, with the support of fans, he continued his trademark style with his signature work, Devilman, as well as Dororon Enma-kun, Violence Jack, and Cutey Honey, the latter of which was integral in developing the early magical girl genre. Go Nagai would eventually establish his very own company Dynamic Productions which would later help in the production of Getter Robo and Mazinger Z.
Personal Favorite: Mazinkaiser
Mazinkaiser is a rather recent OVA series which retells the Mazinger Z story, except this time with a twist. The classic Mazinger Z and Great Mazinger are present, as well as the familiar villains, Dr. Hell and Baron Ashura. The key difference, however, is the presence of a new robot, the titular Mazinkaiser, a robot with abilities that far surpasses the original. Now it’s up to Kouji to pilot the Mazinkaiser and thwart the evil plans of Dr. Hell. If you can’t tell by now, this is a show for little boys and manchildren. Another thing to take note of is the length. Mazinkaiser (7 episodes) is nowhere near as long as Mazinger Z (92 episodes), Great Mazinger (56 episodes), or God Mazinger (23 episodes). Why? Because there’s no fucking around in Mazinkaiser. Every episode, it’s down to business. Bad guy shows up, get’s torn apart by badass super robots. Glorious classic super robot action. Oh is it plot you want? Sorry, won’t find it here. Go watch Brain Powerd or the billion other Eva clones out there instead. Leave Mazinkaiser for us men.
Honorable Mention: New Getter Robo (with Ken Ishikawa)
New Getter Robo is a modern re-imagining of Go Nagai’s classic super robot series Getter Robo and Getter Robo G. Not enough can be said about Go Nagai’s contribution to mecha anime. While Mazinger Z featured the first on-board pilot, Getter Robo featured the first combining robot. Getter Robo’s influence stretches far and wide and can be seen in many popular giant robot shows today such as Evangelion, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, and Gao Gai Gar. New Getter Robo is my favorite from the franchise particularly since it supposedly follows the original manga more closely than the many other remakes while boasting superb Brain’s Base animation. Also a high-point that makes this show great to watch are the three getter pilots. This show is high-octane, manly, giant-robot badassery. The Getter Robo of my generation. Glorious.
Is it any surprise that the creator of Mazinger and Getter Robo is mostly seen smiling, while the creator of Gundam and Ideon is mostly seen frowning? It’s almost fitting if you stop and think about it. That says a lot about the rift between classic super robot stories from the 60s and 70s and the more darker-toned real robot stories that permeated the 80s and 90s. And before anyone asks, no Tomino wasn’t smiling in that picture above, more like grinning mischievously as he delivered his “video games suck” rant.
At any rate, Go Nagai is a rebel at heart. He is a renegade who did as much to anime as he did for it. I’m not trying to justify the likes of Harenchi Gakuen, and numerous other Go Nagai works that are absolutely horrible. But one has to admit, the things Go Nagai did, whether good or bad, he did them during a time when nobody else even came close to thinking of doing them. He didn’t make Kekko Kamen so that it would land him big bucks (at least I hope he didn’t), he did it because he had an idea and felt like running with it. When he didn’t feel like doing it anymore, he stopped and moved on to something else. It seems as if this type of mindset is becoming ever so rare in today’s anime industry.
His legacy, however, remain’s steadfast. This was a man who revolutionized giant robot anime. Similarly to how Tomino pioneered the Real Robot genre, Go Nagai pioneered the early Super Robot genre, which reigned supreme decades before Mobile Suit Gundam. His famous shounen manga and later long running TV series, Mazinger Z, featured the very first giant mecha with an on-board pilot. His work with Ken Ishikawa on Getter Robo marked the very first instance of a combining mecha. His stories brought shounen to a whole new level with grotesque depictions of violence (Devilman, Violence Jack) and fanservice (Cutey Honey, Dororon Enma-kun). Go Nagai, is the king of shounen, the king of echii, the king of Super Robots, and the king of all things manly in anime.
- Animation Director: Hols: Prince of the Sun (1968), Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro (1979)
- Character Designs: Moomin (1969), Lupin III (1969), Future Boy Conan (1978), Chie the Brat (1981)
Yasuo Otsuka grew up during the World War II years. It was during this time that he developed his skills as an artist by drawing cars, trains, and military vehicles he would often see as a child. Otsuka eventually saw the anime movie Hakujaden (Panda and the White Serpent as it was released in the US) in 1958. This inspired him to become an animator and he soon found himself working with Toei, the producers of Hakujaden. It was at Toei where he pioneered modern animation styles and the “money shot.” He worked with many proficient animators and directors including Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki. The former he worked with on the very influential movie Hols: Prince of the Sun and the latter he worked with on the popular Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro, quite possibly the best Lupin movie. Both instances marked the beginning of both Takahata and Miyazaki’s directorial career. Otsuka himself was offered a directing role many times, but turned them all down opting to remain doing what he did best (Ichiro Itano could learn something from this guy).
Personal Favorite: Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro
Lupin III: Castle of Calgiostro is one huge testament to this man’s proficiency as an animator. It simply looks gorgeous both for its time and even nowadays. The highway chase scene is one of the best sequences of animation period. The famous clock tower scene also ranks high on that list. If you ever have a friend whom you want to introduce to “old” style animation, Lupin III is the way to go (fun fact: ask them before hand what year they think the movie is from and laugh when they say the nineties). The movie itself is awesome, the animation is awesome, the story is classic Monkey Punch Lupin. A must-see classic for anyone who claims to be an anime fan.
As a child, Otsuka was fascinated with machinery and moving parts, particularly that of trains. This became a huge influence in many of his later works as an animator, especially during the memorable clock tower scene in Lupin III. However, his legacy is not that of a what he created or took part in, but what he contributed in the form of animation techniques. Before Yasuo Otsuka, Japanese animation looked quite similar to classic western styles employed by Disney. This style was noticeably different in that each frame was drawn in its entirety and scenes were animated at standard frame rate. However, many Japanese studios at the time were faced with severe limitations in both talent and budget, thus imitating Disney’s style became problematic.
Then came Otsuka, one of the first animators to experiment with “frame modulation.” Otsuka would eventually work for Toei Animation where he coined the term “money shot” to refer to the key frames that were drawn with noticeably more detail than the in-between frames. Thus began the trademark style of animation that was the staple of Japanese anime throughout its entire existence. What’s important is not which style, American or Japanese, is better. What matters is that faced with their limitations, early visionaries such as Yasuo Otsuka pioneered a technique that became synonymous with the medium itself. The style saw experimentation and development during the 60s and 70s. By the time of the 80’s Golden Age, what started as a means of saving time and money was perfected into an art form. This is Japan’s style, this is anime’s style, this is OUR style.
The way I see it, Yasuo Otsuka and Toei are responsible for a large portion of what makes modern anime what it is. In particular, the animation portion. While at Toei, Yasuo Otsuka exhibited a huge influence on all the staff there. He even mentored the up-and-coming Hayao Miyazaki, who would eventually form the famous anime studio Ghibli together with Isao Takahata. Though Otsuka may not have as many titles credited to his name as most other directors and animators, his legacy is ensured by Lupin III alone. Without him anime would not be the same, period.
Anime isn’t just about the animation however. You need a damn good story to go along with it. This brings me to the next and final person on this list. Someone who, in my opinion, is absolutely the most important and influential figure that helped shape modern anime…
- Director: Astro Boy (1963)
- Original Story: Astro Boy, Kimba the White Lion, Princess Knight, Black Jack, Phoenix, Metropolis, and MANY more
Osamu Tezuka’s nickname while growing up was something along the lines of “messy head.” He grew up to the sights and sounds of the Takarazuka Theatre, an all women theater in the town he was living in. As a child, Osamu Tezuka had already been honing his manga and storytelling skills, coining the pen name “Osamushi” due to his fascination with bugs. His professional work came at the age of 17 following World War II, thus beginning the manga craze. In 1963, during a time where television was rapidly increasing in popularity, Tezuka’s original story Tetsuwan Atom would become one of the first to be broadcasted. During this time he also established his very own Animation Studio named Mushi Productions after leaving Toei. His untimely death at the age of 60 coincided with the end of the 80s, the end of the golden age of animation, and the end of an era.
Personal Favorite: Phoenix
My favorite work from Osamu Tezuka is definitely Hi no Tori or Phoenix as it is known in English. It is not Tezuka’s most popular work, but it is perhaps the work that defined his career. The Hi no Tori manga is often times referred to as his “life work” as it was a project that he began at a young age and never really finished. As the years went by, he would slowly add to the story, creating an epic story that spanned his entire career. The story involves the titular creature known as the Phoenix or “bird of fire” in Japanese folklore; it is said to be reborn from its ashes when it dies. The story thus spans from the dawn of time all the way to the end of the universe. Each individual saga, while unique in their own way, share one thing in common: the struggles of mankind. Phoenix is truly a tale of epic proportions.
Osamu Tezuka is the God of Manga and the father of “modern anime.” His original work and subsequent influence gave rise to the art form we all know and love. Without Tezuka, anime as we know it would not exist. He is the Walt Disney of Japanese animation, and that’s an understatement. He established many conventions in storytelling in manga and anime that still exist today including the epic narrative style prevalent in Phoenix. He is responsible for perhaps the first “truly modern anime” to be broadcast on television, Tetsuwan Atom or Astro Boy in the United States. His original manga Jungle Taitei even went on to inspire one of America’s most beloved animated movies, The Lion King.
This man’s range of work is massive. To this day, I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of his animeography, let alone mangaography (are those even words?). But here’s the thing: I don’t need to. The things I have seen and read are more than enough to seal the deal.
It seems as if fans these days (myself included) are constantly crying out for originality in an ocean of copycats. Some say it’s because of a lack of talent in the industry. I disagree. I say it’s all Tezuka’s fault! Sometimes I imagine “Trollface Tezuka” sitting at home in his relaxer with a cigar and shirt that reads UMAD. Nah he wouldn’t do that. On a serious note, if you look close enough, traces of nearly every modern subset of anime fandom has its roots in Tezuka’s works. Among his most well-known are the “atom age” stories (Tetsuwan Atom) which combined post-war sentiments, science fiction, robots, and mature themes but were also suitable for children. He pioneered the earliest forms of shonen fighting tropes (Dororo) and shoujo storytelling (Princess Knight). Some of Tezuka’s later and lesser known works dealt with a number of themes often seen today such as life and death (Phoenix), nature (Jungle Taitei), religion (Buddha), the human psyche (A Clockwork Apple, Apollo’s Song), arthouse (Belladonna of Sadness), and even eroticism (One Thousand and One Nights). Tezuka also played a huge role in mentoring a young Yoshihiro Tatsumi who later went on to establish the Gekiga movement. Tezuka himself would later incorporate many of the darker themes found in Gekiga into his stories as seen in Ode to Kirihito and Adolf.
I am willing to bet money that ALL the people on this list were in some way affected by Tezuka. Some were his contemporaries. Some were his students. Some were his direct competitors (hello Toei). But perhaps most importantly, many were simply fans of his work and were inspired to become visionaries themselves. All of these people, no doubt, contributed various amounts to the art form in their own way. At the end of the day, however, Tezuka remains the grand master of them all, having not only pioneered the art form, but the medium itself. Watanabe, Ikuhara, Kawajiri, Shinbo, and numerous others might have diversified the anime art form for fans of different tastes. Oshii, Otomo, and Ishiguro might have refined it. Miyazaki and Takahata might have proliferated it. Nagai, Matsumoto, and Tomino might have strengthened it. Mori and Otsuka might have revolutionized it. But it was Osamu Tezuka who created it.
While he may not be with us anymore, the spirit of “Osamushi” lives on. This was a man who used his stories to convince people to care for the world and we should all be thankful for what this man did for the industry, the medium, and for all of us fans whose lives have been changed. GOODNIGHT ANIME! WE LOVE YOU!