With Koufuku Graffiti, Studio SHAFT’s glorious return to slice of life!
With Koufuku Graffiti, Studio SHAFT’s glorious return to slice of life!
Continued from part 1, here are the rest of the directors that managed to notch multiple credits on 10,000 plus per volume hits. 13 guys directed two non-sequel hits, which, adding in the 4 from before, gives a total of 17 people in the history of anime to make this particular list.
As before, note that while anidb and ann are being used, they are potentially incomplete sources. For example, Tsuda Naokatsu only receives Uta Kata production assistance credit on ann. I will generally give direction credit to anyone who is listed as a director on one of the two sites, and directed a plurality of the episodes. Series director vs. plain Director titles for shows that gave the two to different people were tricky to interpret – I opted to give the title to the staffer listed as just director.
An Important Note About The Classification: I only included non-sequel anime when looking for directors. This means nothing with some manifestation of a 2 in the title. Ditto for Gundam or Macross franchise entries after the original. My rationale is that it’s a lot harder to make a prime-time anime from scratch, even with popular source material, than it is to continue living in a house you or someone else built. I count A Certain Scientific Railgun and Mononoke as spinoffs rather than sequels, as the series they spun off of are considerably less well-established franchises.
Number 2 on our (slightly delayed) list is Mekaku City Actors, the newest project from both Akiyuki Shinbo, director of Madoka, Bakemonogatari, and Nisekoi, and the mind behind the Vocaloid designs. The associated light novels have been tearing up the charts for months and the Hype Machine has been building up!
Somehow, this is already the last day of the season where we’re getting multiple new shows on the same day. I suppose there’s also a common thread that both had a certain degree of visual distinctness, coming as they did from strong directorial stock.
Aside from perhaps the hair episode of Yami Shibai, the 5-minute preview for Go Nagai’s Robot Girls Z was the most impressive, repeatable five minutes of animation I watched last month. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s over here. Short version: it’s a 5-minute comedy which, but for the more modern cutesy character designs, could totally have been written by Go Nagai. Its style of humor, featuring excessive violence and heroes doing more damage than the monsters they fight, is what he’s always been all about.
Being that I was excited about the project (this was only the 0th episode), I flew over to ann to check the profiles of the freaks involved. As it turns out, the director, Hiroshi Ikehata, has only ever handled one TV series before (Ring ni Kakero), which isn’t a very good sample size to judge a director on. But he has held the position of episode director numerous times, on all manner of series (from A-Channel to Yuyushiki).
There are no less than 8 new directors making their debut in this Summer 2013 season with similar information about their early careers available.* One of them is Hiroko Utsumi, the director of Free! Others run the quality gamut, from C3-Bu’s Masayoshi Kawajiri to Neptunia’s Masahiro Mukai. And, lest I forget, Shishiou Igarashi made a smashing debut with The Unlimited this winter. It’s definitely possible for first-timers to post veteran-esque performances, but far from guaranteed.
This observation led me to a question; what, if anything, can we glean from a first-time director’s experience in the bullpen? If it that experience is important, what part of it is? Is it better to have worked as an understudy to a great creator on a memorable show, or to build up tons of experience grinding out lots of support roles? To attempt to answer these questions, I pulled up resumes for the 11 directors who first got their hands on a serial anime project in 2012 and combed them over to see if anything in particular was a good indicator of their respective performances. This article outlines a number of the potential performance I examined, some better than others.
Dangan Ronpa is so damn campy. But I love campy. So I love it. In all seriousness, there was a choice to be made when this anime was adapted. The staff could take the source material and turn it into a serious work about a bunch of teenagers forced to kill each other in a sadistic game they’ve been trapped inside of. Not that that genre is at all saturated. Or they could just make an anime that celebrates the already zany source material and went wild with the game-adaptation portion. There were plenty of points this episode where I found myself thinking “oh yeah, this is a game adaptation”, but there were exactly zero where I found myself minding.
[Two claifications that I couldn’t quite fit elsewhere in this article and though of afterward: when I say soundtrack, I’m not including openings and endings for the purposes of this discussion. They’re different. Also, as a music fan I know that music is subjective.]
A bit of background first. I’ve been really into music since age 5, when my dad played Buddy Holly’s Greatest Hits for me, and music has pretty my been my favorite thing since then, my taste and knowledge expanding greatly every year since I was 13. Anime on the other hand, I hated until I was 14 and my best friend finally convinced me to watch Full Metal Alchemist with him. It still wouldn’t be a real hobby of mine until I was 16 or 17 and watched Samurai Champloo. Even then, it’s only a major use of my time only since entering college. Just some context for my music knowledge compared to my anime knowledge.
Anyway, an opinion I hold that seems to be controversial among other anime fans I talk to is that anime music sucks for the most part. Soundtracks default to a 5/10, and this is because I’m generous, and only take off points if it’s actively bad or doesn’t fit. But before I get too edgy and pretentious, let me explain what I mean.
To me, judging a good soundtrack is not that different from judging good music. All the same elements are there, just certain ones are more in the foreground for a soundtrack. One of the signs of good music is it’s ability to set a scene or mood. I tend to really get into it, so it isn’t hard for me to imagine things when I hear quality music. This is a sign of good music in general, but in soundtracks, it’s critical. Mood is their first job. Though, a good soundtrack should be able not only to fit the mood, it should enhance the mood of the scene, and be able to set the mood on it’s own if need be. Even bad direction can be saved to a degree with a good soundtrack. However, to be truly good soundtracks must also actually sound good to just listen to, the primary goal of regular music. This is especially true, since a song will often be played multiple times throughout a series.
To me, being good implies going above and beyond. “Not failing” isn’t good, it’s good enough. There’s a huge difference. And this may just be because music is so important to me, but a scene loses or gains a lot depending on the music with it. Haibane Renmei wouldn’t have been nearly as emotional if the music weren’t so beautiful and perfectly fitting. It really helped in my mind to establish setting, which the best soundtracks are able to do.
For some examples of mood, let me refer you to some of my favorites, both in regular music, and soundtracks. Spiderland by Slint is widely considered a classic of both post-rock and (real, not shitty modern metal) post-hardcore. It’s an incredibly powerful album with a distinct feel to it as a whole. Just listen to the opening track “Breadcrumb Trail”. I don’t know how to describe the mood, but it is powerful. Approximately 1:24 into the song is one of my favorite moments in all of music. The album also contains “Don, Aman”, one of the most strangely unsettling pieces I’ve ever heard, with lyrics I can relate to far more than I would like to. It’s only guitar chords and vocals, but no song I’ve ever heard conveys that sense of alienation, fear, and paranoia nearly that well. Also, “Good Morning, Captain” is one of the few songs to make me cry the first time I really heard the lyrics.
On the almost opposite end of the mood spectrum, is a band I’ve listened to a lot recently, Zebrahead. Probably one of the douchiest bands ever bands to exist, they’re a pop-punk band with a rapper and a goal to have zero “depth” or “meaning”. They’re fairly inconsistent after their first couple albums, but Waste of Mind and Playmate of the Year are awesome. There’s no deep emotional description I can give, but check out the songs “Someday”, “Playmate of the Year”, “I’m Money”, and “Into You”. Perfect for summer and hanging out and partying with good friends.
Anyway, back to anime soundtracks, very few of them seem to have any emotional impact, or carry a mood well at all. Legend of the Galactic Heroes is an exception, using really great classical music, and not just for the sake of using it; only classical fits the scale and tone of the series. It always comes in at the right times, and always has a mood fitting what’s happening on screen. Whether you’re watching it or hearing the music, you can tell what’s happening. You can tell that a scene is dramatic and tense, or sad, or more rarely, happy. Coming together, it’s clear why Legend of the Galactic Heroes is considered a masterpiece.
Another example of perfect soundtrack is Samurai Champloo. The instrumental hip-hop perfectly complements the whole theme of the series, itself being a combination of hip-hop style and samurai action. One of the things I find incredible about it is that despite being almost entirely one genre, it covers a wide range of moods, and works well for action, comedy, and drama as well, but still maintains a really chill coolness throughout.. The soundtrack was done largely by Nujabes, well respected as one of the foremost instrumental hip-hop artists ever for the great beat with what I consider the best melodies in the genre. Sadly, he died in 2010, but his legacy certainly survives him. Check his stuff out.
Most soundtracks at least do their most basic job of keeping tone and mood to some degree, but I feel that if I’m going to call it good, it has to stand out to me as I watch the show because of at least a few tracks I enjoy as music. This, I think, is the only area where I would say OreImo is better than Kaiji. Furthermore, as much as I really love the stuff from Shaft that Shinbo directed, the soundtracks have never impressed me. I’ve watched Madoka 3 times, and I can’t remember a single song from it, but music from Green Green, an awful show I barely made it through once, still goes through my head. I only remember one track from the Bakemonogatari soundtrack, and that’s because it sounds like a ripoff of “Take Five” by the Dave Brubeck Quartet. Hidamari Sketch music I think I only like because I associate it with Hidamari Sketch. Keep in mind that most Shinbo directed stuff I’ve seen I gave an 8 or 9 out of 10.
Basically, most anime music sounds really generic to me, fits the mood, but does nothing to enhance it, and just doesn’t sound good to listen to by itself. It wouldn’t set a mood on it’s own, or be good musically on it’s own. So much of it is just lacking the passion, emotion, and energy I’ve come to expect from music. I’d like to see more anime music succeed not only as a soundtrack, but also as music, but so many seem to forget that part and write it just as a soundtrack, but ignore the fact that as music, first and foremost it should be music.
Good anime soundtracks:
Samurai Champloo (10/10)
Legend of the Galactic Heroes (10/10)
Haibane Renmei (10/10)
OreImo (A lot of it is ska, various style too)
Air Gear (Similar to Jet Set Radio, one of the same people worked on both)
Lupin III (More jazz, what else fits Lupin?)
Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt (I don’t really know what to call this)
FLCL (A bit overrated, but still good)
My criteria for a great soundtrack:
-Sounds like it could be actual music
-Consistently keeps the tone of individual scenes
-Specifically notice the music making a scene more emotional in some way
-At least 2 tracks stand out as good when I watch it
-Plays a role in building the setting, and could do so on its own to some degree