Way back in 1960, the NBA’s Cincinnati Royals drafted future hall-of-fame basketball player Oscar Robertson with the first overall pick. In his first season, he was named rookie of the year. In his second season, he became the only player in NBA history to average a triple double (i.e. putting up ridiculous stats in 3 separate historical categories). In his fourth season, he was named the league’s most valuable player. In his fifth through seventh seasons, he never made it past the first round of the playoffs. In his eighth through tenth seasons, he didn’t even make the playoffs despite putting up consistently great personal stats. In his eleventh season, on a new team with the man who would become Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, his team win a then-record 20 games in a row and eviscerated opponents in the playoffs, winning him his first-ever NBA title.
Robertson was great for basically his entire career, and it’s not like he lost those skills when his teams weren’t winning. So then why didn’t they win? Because in team sports like basketball, teams matter. When his team’s second-best player is a 41-year-old coach coming back into the game as a publicity stunt, how good a player is doesn’t much matter. It still takes good players to win championships, but great players not named Michael Jordan don’t win championships alone.
Anime production is not very much like basketball, but it’s a similarly complex process where circumstances can contribute as much asindividual skills do to the net result. Before work on a show can even start, a producer has to successfully pitch an idea to sponsors and justify the business side of operations. A capable cast and staff have to be assembled. Those staffers then have to both have to develop an clear vision for the series and adequately communicate that vision with the hundred-plus animators who typically work on a modern TV anime. And for the project to be a success, that vision then has to resonate with its target audience, something which just doesn’t always happen.
I mention all this because it pertains very much to the discussion of director Kishi Seiji, one of only four directors in the history of anime to helm 3 non-sequel 10k+ hits, and the only one to do so at three separate studios. In spite of having set a career milestone that puts him on the same spreadsheet as Tatsuyuki Nagai and Yoshiyuki Tomino, Kishi has been a constant target for all sorts of fan ire. Taking a quick look at his career, it’s fairly easy to see where this sentiment originates. After a barely-notable start to his career, Kishi spent the years between 2007 and 2010 knocking off three straight winners (Seto no Hanayome, Astro Fighter Sunred, and Angel Beats) and making a bit of a name for himself. Angel Beats, for all its success, has its fair share of detractors, but the majority of bad mojo Kishi has generated comes from the next 3 years of his career, the stretch from 2011 to 2013, that made him one of the many to earn the nickname “the Uwe Boll of anime”. I categorically reject this label, not because all of the shows he directed over that stretch were good, but because the stretch was a daunting one in a way people rarely think about (and included some impressive achievements regardless).