Fun With Numbers: Directors With Blockbuster Chops (Part 3: Commentary)

Last week, I posted a list of directors who had helmed multiple 10k+ shows.

I just wanted to make/clarify a couple of points regarding said list.

1. This list only represents one way of counting the data.

This is a key statement whenever talking about anime creators, true in this case for two primary reasons. First, making an anime involves a large staff, not just one person. Even the person with the most responsibility can be elevated or restrained by the performance of the rest of the staff. Second, there are great animators and movie directors like Satoshi Kon, Yoshinori Kanada, Makoto Shinkai, and many others with influential careers whose career choices means they won’t make a list with these particular criterion. What it was was a comprehensive list of the directors who made multiple 10k+ hits. A significant achievement, but not the only one.

Additionally, you can get a slightly different list (one that excludes Hideaki Anno, Kazuhiro Furuhashi, and Yoshiyuki Tomino) by not counting rerelease sales for series that sold before 2000. I did count them, because the market before late-night TV and DVDs was a significantly different, less home video dependent one. You could also get a list that includes Seiji Mizushima and puts Tomino on top of everyone else by a mile by including Macross/Gundam installments as non-sequels. I stand by the reasoning for the criterion I used, but it is worth noting that other, reasonable interpretations of the same data can yield somewhat different results.

2. 4 of the 17 directors on the list worked on Kazuo Yamazaki’s run of Urusei Yatsura very early in their careers.

I’ve noted this before, and said that Urusei Yatsura was a big, big franchise, so it’s not really surprising that people just coming into the industry at that time ended up working on it.I doubt they actually knew him that well (most of these people are only credited on 2-3 episodes). More likely, this is just a narrative about how big hits represent opportunities for young talent to get hired and show enough stuff to get promoted.

3. No female directors are on the list right now, but a few have decent chances of making it on in the next 3-5 years.

At present, 3 female directors have helmed non-sequel hit anime; Da Capo’s Nagisa Miyazaki, K-on’s Naoko Yamada, and Free’s Hiroko Utsumi. If you count Nagisa’s work on the original Xebec Negima series, where she was credited as a director while working under chief director Nobuyoshi Habara, then she’s on the list (I don’t because I was trying to find the person most in charge for each series). Those three aside, there are a couple other promising young folks who have had good-looking early careers and could definitely wind up in the position to run high-upside projects in the near future. OreGaIru’s Ai Yoshimura fell just short of the mark once already, and Atsuko Ishizuka is a delightful force of nature (both are directing shows I’m fairly excited for this summer).

4. Big talent generally stays put, but can migrate in some cases and be generally available in others.

I’ve yet to write about this, but it’s a good point to make here that Shogakukan’s signing Hiromu Arakawa away from Square Enix to do Silver Spoon is one of the bigger coups in recent manga history (Hajime Isayama was an unknown, if promising, quantity at the time Kodansha picked him up). It’s comparatively rare for a company to build up a relationship with top tier talent and then watch that talent walk out on them. Anime studios generally seem to be pretty good at keeping their top talent; among the 17 directors on this list, 10 made all of their hits at the same studio. The exceptions? Hayao Miyazaki and Hiroyuki Imaishi eventually got their own studios. Tetsuro Araki switched from Madhouse to Production IG circa 2011 (around the time NTV bought Madhouse’s stock), and appears to be staying there. And Kazuhiro Furuhashi/Tsutomu Mizushima/Junichi Sato/Seiji Kishi make up the elite ranks of “free agent” directors who have helmed projects at any number of studios. It’s possible those four have been making themselves more available, or have a wider network of producers with different companies that they’ve built up a reputation with, so they get the first call when the producer is looking for a name to use at the second pitch meeting for a show. That’s mainly guesswork, but it’d be interesting to see how they get involved in so many different projects.

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