New Directors: What’s In A Resume?

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.

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First Reactions: Photo Kano Episode 2

The two-week stretch of the season where every first episode comes out is almost over, so now it’s back to the equally enjoyable grind of talking about individual series in depth as they do their darndest to make an impact.

Photo Kano was a show I resolved to blog on the strength of one feature: its skillful utilization of photographic motifs to enhance a story about photography. After this episode, I’m even more convinced that rookie director Akitoshi Yokoyama knows exactly what he’s doing. This episode was all over the charts in terms of the events it featured, and he had a different camera trick for everything. And it’s worth nothing that, great as the camerawork in this episode was, it certainly wouldn’t have produced as much of an effect if the cast wasn’t growing increasingly charming.

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Sell Me in 20 Minutes: Photo Kano and Yahari Ore no Seishun wa Love Come ni Machigatteiru

I mentioned in our Spring Preview Betting Session that I was worried about both of these shows, as they had first-time directors handling big-budget tv productions, something that is usually a recipe for trouble. Yes, Shishiou Igarashi notwithstanding.   Still, I went into both with an open mind, as I enjoy nothing more than a pleasant surprise.

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Space Bros: Some Thoughts on Episodes 1-46

Before Space Brothers aired, I was kind of ambivalent on it. The director, Ayumu Watanabe, was new in the sense that his only other experience was a ton of Doraemon, and he was helming two shows that season (Mysterious Girlfriend X being the second one). Also, I knew from my research into what would later become my Manga Japanese Critics Love panel that the manga (winner of Kodansha and Shogakukan manga awards in 2011 and 2010, respectively) was over 18 volumes long, so it would be very difficult to cover that in what seemed destined for a one-season timeslot. So it was with more caution than optimism that I got on Crunchyroll in the aftermath of Ohio State’s 62-64 NCAA Tournament loss to Kansas to check out the first episode.

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The Unlimited – Hyoubu Kyousuke: Brief Thoughts on Episodes 1-8

Let me start with full disclosure; I’m an unabashed fan of Zettai Karen Children, the manga. I have been since 3 years ago, when I got through the whole of it that existed (some 200 chapters at the time) in just under 2 days. I love the way it portrays slow growth of characters and a gradual shift in both the softness of Minamoto’s personality and a growing sense of responsibility of the kids. I love how it can do drama well and can return to good comedic storylines after said powerful dramatic moments.

ZKC-Probability Note

This immediately followed the series’ most dramatic arc

Let me also say that I abhorr the 2008 ZKC anime, because it’s a cheap imitation of Hayate the Combat Butler with little of the dramatic poise and persistent direction that makes the ZKC manga such a dynamic read.

So it should come as no surprise that I called shotgun on The Unlimited’s bandwagon as soon as I saw the promo art, premise, and the name of the director (in it was not the same one from 2008). It felt like the more dramatic side of the story would get a chance to see the light of day. I was worried about the fact that the director Shishiou Igarashi, had never helmed an anime before, but one could’ve done worse than Episode Direction of Deadman Wonderland as far as resume went.


From this…

ZKC-2…to this.

And this show immediately answered my expectations. In the first 2 minutes, we saw villain Hyoubu tearing through a military pursuit squad with nonchalance, taking down a helicopter with a popsicle stick after upending a tank squad. If nothing else, this show was going to establish itself with action. I really can’t emphasize how good the chase scene is for any sort of opening episode (more on that in a later article), and the fact that this director understood this flat out was a very good sign. As later episodes would show, this was not a misleading sign. Since that impressive first episode, we’ve gotten plenty of good action, some decent character development for anime original characters Andy and Yuugiri, and a retelling of one of the slower and less necessary manga arcs made more interesting than I expected.

The writer for the original 2008 season of the anime, Shinichi Inotsume, is still working on this season, and while his presence isn’t totally gone, it’s been reduced enough to be tolerable. The worst of the havoc he wrought was a not-very-funny Spelunker reference in episode 3. I appreciate that the director is handling body language and action scenes for the cast well enough to make the mediocre writing quality thankfully irrelevant.

I still enjoy the ZKC manga in its raw form, mixing comedic and dramatic arcs with a gradually advancing plot, the best. Still, if the 2008 anime was the forgets-what-made-the-original-good-comedy Fumoffu of the franchise, then the 2013 spinoff is proving to be a reasonable facsimile of TSR. More than anything, I look forward to seeing Igarashi’s name on more shows to come.