So, I’m deleting my current director/creator worship page as well as my weekly page to combine it all into the highlights page. Because the director highlights never had their own posts, I felt the need to post them so they aren’t gone forever. I’ll be doing future ones in a different style and these ones haven’t been updated so they won’t make the jump to the new highlight page. I’m just archiving them to not delete them.
Ohkura is (more or less)known for directing Blue Drop ~Tenshi-Tachi no Gikou~ and Yukikaze. In both cases he did a whole lot of shit, having done the screenplay for Blue Drop and storyboard for Yukikaze. The theme of his work seems to be pseudo-intellectual pretentious sci-fi spliced with gay romance. In Yukikaze’s case it is a case of two extremely freakishly creepy-looking bishies who have a very suspicious relationship. In Blue Drop, it’s yuri instead with some cute but definitely unique designs. Both involve lots of sci-fi that is extremely trippy and not very explained.
Oddly enough, I haven’t actually finished either of these shows. The trouble with Ohkura’s style is that it gets a little too caught up in it’s own pretentiousness and forgets to be thoroughly entertaining. The draw of his works is more in the mysteries and just wondering what the hell will happen next than anything, but for me his style is also what drew me in. Blue Drop was one of my favorites from the fall season for the time I was watching it, mostly thanks to some really cool imagery and a definable tone. It’s very much a graduated step from Yukikaze which, apart from beautiful animation and epic dogfights, didn’t have much going for it thanks to it’s hour-long episodes and totally nonsensical plot. I’m glad to see that this guy is improving himself, though, because trippiness, great imagery, and, uh, gay romance, are all big plusses in my book. Now that he’s figured out tone, and even some rather nice (if a bit awkward) character interaction, he’s a handful of good ol’ entertainment away from a classic in the Digital Boy Book.
Lets get this out of the way now – Shinbo is my favorite director, and you could say I’m a total fanboy. Our relationship began long before I had ever read his name, though, in 2003 when my cousin and I were getting into anime. We were unknown to the world of anime that stretched beyond Anime Invasion and Animerica, and everything we saw was either on DVD or Cartoon Network. Dub vs. Sub didn’t matter to us, we just picked one. Our genre of focus was generally action/adventure. We bought whatever looked cool in magazines or on ANN. One of the random purchases made by my cousin was the first DVD of the SoulTaker. At the time, I thought it was pretty cool for it’s nice fight scenes but also a little boring. ‘Boring’ being a word that I commonly associated with the visually intricate. Boy how times have changed. Eventually, because my cousin got out of anime, I was sold a lot of his DVDs for 5 bucks apiece and one of those I bought from him was The SoulTaker, which would sit on my shelf forever, remembered only for it’s theme song which back then and even now is one of the best themes ever in my mind.
Fast forward to Spring 2007. The only things I’ve watched and gotten into recently are Neon Genesis Evangelion and the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. I was into music, not anime. However, I was introduced to some shows that were airing at the time and one of them was Hidamari Sketch (which, as you can now see, is one of my top 10.) I read Shinbo’s name being tossed around a lot in reference to this series, and then along came episode 5. If you go to my favorite episodes of all time list, you can see it is one of the top 5 or 6. The first impression I had was ‘whoever directed this is a fucking genius.’ And then, a few searches later, I found out that this was a person I’d heard of before! The director of The SoulTaker! So I found myself slowly becoming more interested in him. And then in Summer 07 Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei went on the air and it was love at first sight. Perhaps because of seeing NHK recently, I was developing a love of Black Comedy along with my love of insane directing and SZS was the truly ultimate combination of those two. I knew instantly that I needed to check out everything this Shinbo had ever done.
…or maybe not. See, Shinbo spent most of the mid-90s directing really shitty OVAs and anime. Mostly it was the kind of action-comedy-cute girls stuff that was popular then, the most famous of the bunch probably being Devil Hunter Yohko and Saber Marionette J to X. In 1999, though, the first show to really feature Shinbo’s now trademark style came out – Starship Girl Yamamoto Yohko. Yamamoto Yohko is a 26-ep sci-fi/slice of life/comedy… or something. I’m 7 episodes into it myself, and the experience is very hard to define. Many find themselves asking ‘is this show low budget, or is it a stylistic decision?’ The show is slow, but it’s lead is energetic – it’s sci-fi, but it spends plenty of time on earth dealing with the personal problems of the characters. The experience is hardly akin to anything else around. Shinbo’s trademark single-color shots, close-ups of eyes, and odd camera angles can be seen a lot here.
His next show, the SoulTaker, would truly define his style and introduce a great number of ‘Shinboisms’ to be seen in his later works. The things seen in Yamamoto Yohko return as well as his trademark stained-glass backgrounds, covering up lots of the screen in black, pushing the entire action into the top or bottom third of the screen (often with some nonsensical still image occupying the other 2 thirds), use of lots of Christian symbols (namely crucifixions) words that represent the placement of people (seen in episode 2 where the ninjas are represented by the word ‘halt’ as they call it out) splicing a shot into a few colors, and accentuating emotional outbursts with special animation (my favorite being in episode 2 when Kyousuke turns into a scratchy image on a white background and screams ‘YOU BITCH!’). The SoulTaker’s plot was fairly simplistic and not especially focused, since the point of the show was essentially to be as trippy as possible and involve tons of symbolism – and to an extent, it worked. The SoulTaker was the first Shinbo show I actually finished, and the first to enter my favorites list (originally into the top 10, but has gradually fallen back, remaining in the top 30-40).
For some reason, even though The SoulTaker aired in 01, Shinbo’s only work between the SoulTaker and 2004 was on the four-episode OVA Triangle Heart, which went on from 2000 to 2003. Triangle Heart is based on an H-game and was the origin of Nanoha who went on to star in the spin-off series turned trilogy Lyrical Nanoha. I actually had no idea that Triangle Hearts had been done by Shinbo until researching him for this post, but I actually did give it a try because of someone’s recommendation. I only made it through one uninspired, boring, shitty episode before giving up on it XD
Finally in early 04 Shinbo arrived on the scene again directing one of my favorite OVAs, Petite Cossette. Cossette is essentially The SoulTaker redux, since it contains some very similar symbolism, scenes, imagery, and directing. However, the budget is much higher and the right choice was made in making the story more coherent while making the visuals even trippier.
Shinbo’s 04 return to TV anime was with Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha, the Triangle Hearts spinoff. Shinbo’s style is almost nonexistent this time around, likely due to the producers wanting something normal. Shinbo had nothing to do with the sequels, likely because he was tired of restricting himself. Nanoha is currently an insanely popular franchise in Japan and even has some US fanbase. As a person who usually likes things that are popular, I’ve tried checking it out, but have yet to pass episode 2. I’ve heard there get to be some really good fights later and that there are good characters and fake yuri but… the cutesyness is too much even for me.
Shinbo’s next gig is the one that defines his work today – joining up with animation production company SHAFT, he directed Tsukuyomi ~Moon Phase~. Since then, with the exception of the 2nd Kino movie in 2007 and the oddball ultra-short romantic comedy REC in 2006, he has directed everything made by SHAFT. Moon Phase features some new tricks by Shinbo, such as showing a house from the outside with it’s fourth wall removed, and tons of washbuckets falling on characters’ heads (almost as a substitute for the usual sweatdrop or sword-stab.) While Shinbo’s style isn’t as thick in this show, it is still present and the Shinbo/SHAFT tactic of making the most out of a low budget first arrived. And somehow, the budget was REALLY low. Tsukuyomi is infamous for having an entire episode that featured entirely no animation whatsoever, composed entirely of stills. In this instance, many said that they could definitely tell that this was the case, but in more recent shows, it has become hard to tell if a show is moving or not simply because the style covers it up. Tsukuyomi’s animation-less eps were fixed on the DVD release.
The next Shinbo/SHAFT production, PaniPoni Dash!, is more or less the standard for their works since and can be considered the magnum opus of WTF. Detailing all the kinds of special directing that went into this show would be impossible thanks to the crew at SHAFT doing as much as possible to make this the most visually unique show ever. There is not a single shot in PPD that isn’t strange in some way. Some of these things can be directly attributed to Shinbo and seen frequently in later works, such as the writing on the chalkboards which say something different in EVERY shot, the appearance of all food in live-action, and some of his old tricks like stuffing the action into a third of the screen. But PPD has contributions from everyone in the staff, like segments where the show is turned into a video game, and news bulletins that randomly go across the screen. What is most amazing about PPD is that it is thorough on an ungodly number of levels. There are times where the background text, the dialog of the characters, and the image on-screen are all 3 referencing something different. It is absolutely required that one watches the show a multitude of times if they even remotely hope to catch everything, and even then, it would be impossible alone. I own the DVDs myself, and have seen 15 episodes so far, not even getting to some of the real insanity that I’ve heard happens later on. I was watching the show with subs that would tell me what all the background stuff was saying, which still meant that I had to pause frequently to read things and sometimes lost track of the plot. Before episode 15, I decided to try out the DVD feature ‘ADVidnotes’ while watching. ADVidnotes is a thing where speech bubbles pop up on the screen to inform you of whatever an image is referencing. However, I have no idea what happened in episode 15 because he screen was occupied at almost all times with tons of ADVidnotes blocking my view. I decided that I would need to watch this show once just seeing the episode, once reading background text, and once with vidnotes on.
Shinbo took a break for a year after PPD while SHAFT made REC and chilled a bit before starting the next project, Negima?!, in late 06-early07. I haven’t seen Negima?! because from what I’ve heard, Shinbo ‘got bored’ around halfway through. Up to that point, the show had been a lot like PPD and the Shinbo/SHAFT shows to come after, being a really strange and unique show, but about halfway through their hearts weren’t in it anymore and it degraded to ‘fuck it, it’s Negima, whatever.’ I have a very strong hatred for the canon Negima! series, so I’ve never bothered with Negima?! knowing Shinbo copped out, but this show did seem to be the start of a year of pure powerhousing from SHAFT. From the time of this show’s starting through the end of the Winter 07-08 season, there was a Shinbo/SHAFT show airing every season.
The next one to start, and my introduction to the name ‘Shinbo’ was Hidamari Sketch. HidaSketch is, in my opinion, probably the best example of the studio and director’s combined skill in making a totally awesome, unique, fun experience. Shinbo was really playful this time around, not only using the techniques he always does, but incorporating the story’s elements itself into the strange. For instance, the main character, Yuno, wears Xs in her hair, and thus the letter X is ever-present in the show. At the end of each episode, Yuno takes a bath and uses a different color tablet to change the water color reflecting the episode’s mood. HidaSketch is steeped constantly in unique visuals, but the way they are integrated into the story makes them almost not stand out – they feel just right with whats going on. It wasn’t enough for Shinbo, though, to have a show in which he could basically do whatever he wanted – he had to have one episode of complete and utter trippiness to satiate his needs! Episode 5 is probably the most well-remembered episode of HidaSketch for it’s crazy-ass acid trip of a dream. It is, in many ways, Shinbo’s magnum opus. Oddly enough, it took me a whole year to finish Hidamari Sketch. The show was subbed at an ungodly slow rate and wasn’t done until nearly 6 months after it’s airing, and I only ended up watching episodes on rare occasion. I finally finished the show in March 08 and it sits currently in my top 10. I still haven’t watched both of the specials. Hidamari Sketch x 365 was announced some time ago and will start airing… sometime.
Shinbo’s next project was the one that solidified his place as my favorite director and inspired me to go watch everything he’d ever created. Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei is the wack-job black comedy full of some of the most risque humor to ever face the earth. SZS has famously donned the moniker ‘the hardest manga to translate ever’ given to it by Boogiepop novel translater Andrew Cunningham who noted the manga’s focus on filling every panel with as many jokes as humanly possible and making just about every single phrase a double-en tender. It’s no surprise, then, that this show took forever to get subbed. I could probably best describe SZS as ‘a fucking insane headtrip that will tear your face off.’ Basically, the crew took PaniPoni Dash! and painted it black, turning the homages into insults and pointing a middle finger at whoever possible. SZS is a world all it’s own – there is so much packed into it that it’s hard to even judge by regular anime standards, and comparisons to anything else are pretty much unfair. If you haven’t seen it, I suggest doing so, just so you can go ‘WTF’. When SZS was first airing I thought for sure it would make my top 5 but I only managed to watch 4 eps since thats about where the subs froze. I actually had Fuura Kafuka wearing the bloody tear mask from the ED as my birthday cake. It took me until March 08 to finish SZS and it ended up being fairly hit-and-miss for me but overall awesome.
And now, I regret to inform you that I lied. The next Shinbo/SHAFT show actually wasn’t directed by Shinbo. The real director is another guy who worked on some of the other SHAFT shows with Shinbo. Instead, Shinbo played the role of ‘supervisor’. What the fuck is a supervisor? No one knows. However, I think it was about 1 episode into ef ~a tale of memories~ that a consensus was reached – Shinbo was behind this. From the famous close-ups of eyes and stained glass windows to dramatic angles that Shinbo was known for, SHAFT wasn’t fooling anyone. My opinion of ef should be pretty obvious, since up until a few weeks ago it was my favorite anime of all time, now sitting comfortably in the second place chair. You could easily rummage through my blog and find my opinions of it.
The latest Shinbo/SHAFT joint was Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, the second and apparently 100-times-more-risque season of the already-risque black comedy. Personally I haven’t watched any of it because I’m convinced it will never get subbed, considering that it is over now and only 7 eps are out. Looking to the future, the next Shinbo/SHAFT work on the horizon is Shina Dark, an ecchi-comedy with a very fun scenario based on an incredibly shitty manga. Even though the manga sucks, though, it looks easily like something Shinbo and SHAFT could turn around and make beautiful.
Mamoru Hosoda started off, like many, doing key animation on a couple of projects before breaking into his directing career, which he did in 1999 with a couple of short movies for the Digimon Adventures series, and shortly thereafter, the movie. Hosoda joined Ghibli early into the millennium, and was actually supposed to direct Howl’s Moving Castle, but left before it happened. Since then, he has directed two motion pictures, the first of which brought him to my attention.
In 2005, Hosoda directed the 6th One Piece movie, Omatsuri Danshaku to Himitsu no Shima (goddamn Japanese movie titles). I just happened to see it because Shin was at my house, Xam’d was downloading, and he hadn’t seen it in a while. Aside from being the usual awesome that exuberates from One Piece (seriously, I don’t care if you don’t like shounen, you’ve gotta watch One Piece) the directing style was very notable. The movie had a lot of energy, never really getting boring, and the play between the characters was nice. There was a common tendency to end a scene on a random, often brief joke that had you laughing into the next scene’s setup, so things never felt dull. This technique is seen to a slightly lesser extent in his next work as well. Some other similarities include the pacing of a long setup, a lot of fun running around, and then a plot twist that sneaks up on you and bonks you in the head. The twist in One Piece was far more hinted at and expected, though one could argue that the plot in the second film lends itself to twists.
That film, which I’m sure you’ve seen if you have been watching anime since 2007, was Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo. Tokikake, as it is called, was one of the earlier things I saw when getting back into anime (on motherfucking crunchyroll) and I think you can actually find my original review on my blog. I’d been meaning to rewatch it for a long time, so now was finally my excuse. Tokikake takes things slower than One Piece, though still contains a decent level of fun and excitement with the whimsical air you usually get out of a Ghibli film (surprise, surprise.) On my second watching, I didn’t seem to get as attached to Makoto as I would’ve liked if just because we never truly get inside her head, but the movie is fun and cute, and sort of coming-of-age which is always nice.
Hosada also did a 5-minute short for Louis Vuitton a few years back called Superflat Monogram (easily findable on youtube) which fans of Tokikake will instantly draw connections with and certainly enjoy. It’s cute and most importantly fun – something I like for a film to be, and something I hope to continue to see in Hosada’s films.