Studiotolatry

Telling it like it is.
Tama-chan telling it like it (sort of) is.

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears (no, not like Kaiji would). I come to bury studios, not to praise them!

Hyperbole aside, where am I coming from? Well, like most things that happen (I have a historian’s genes), this entry has several contributing causes. One is DiGiKerot’s remarks ‘On Anime and Directors‘. Another is a comment that Brack recently dropped on Bateszi’s blog, which puts into words something I’ve been worrying about for a while. It reads, in part, like this:

. . . the majority of anime fans don’t even know who makes their favourite shows, let alone who makes shows they’ve not seen. They are more likely to know who writes the manga or novel an anime is based on than who directed, scripted or animated the anime version.

I’m not going to say anything new today, but sometimes I feel like reminding the world just how Serious a Business our anime discussions are. So let’s talk, once again, about how we talk about anime. Here’s a question for you: have you heard of Miyazaki, Oshii or Kon? (Yes, I’m aware that Miyazaki claims not to create anime. He is wrong. He does.)

How about Tatsuyu Ishihara? Heard of him? He only directed Air, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and Kanon (yes, 2006). Oh yeah, and some show called Clannad. Not exactly a stellar record of success, so it’s no surprise that searching Nano for ‘Ishihara’ on the fifth of April produced exactly fourteen results, as opposed to eighteen pages’ (so roughly 180 entries) worth if you search for ‘kyoani’. It’s no surprise, because Ishihara had no role in the creative processes of the shows I listed above. No humans have; said shows are all products of that mysterious deity, Kyoto Animation, from whom all blessings flow and to whom all praise is due.

No, I’m not taking a swipe at Kyoto’s fans here. I’m simply using the most dramatic example I have to drive home my point: there seems to be an unjustified focus on studios at the expense of people. Let’s get this straight: directors exercise considerable influence over their anime, whether it’s highbrow, hentai or anything in between. And narratives, stories, are the products of specific people too. Or, to put it another way, Sunrise don’t wreck trains, particular writers wreck trains, just as Gundams don’t kill people, Tomino kills people.

Golden Calf

As for animation? Well, here the studio is somewhat more significant. (Here‘s a good example of the justified use of a studio’s name to draw together a group of anime for close study.) But directors have influence here too. To quote Bateszi:

Gurren-Lagann’s director Hiroyuki Imaishi’s previous work Dead Leaves was animated at Production IG but it shares such a visual resemblance/sugar rush style to said epic mecha show. [I might add that Imaishi was animation director for FLCL too. Evidently a man to watch. From a distance, in case he explodes.
~ Animanachronism]

And this focus on the studio is the root cause of much of the bile caused by fanboying or fangirling. A small but significant minority of anime fans are violently opposed to admitting the worth of anything produced by Kyoto Animation precisely because of the obsession with the studio posssessed by another small (but vocal) minority. Both groups are equally dogmatic, of course, and both groups are incoherent in their studio-centric viewpoint. It’s like trying to talk about chess using the vocabulary of table tennis: it hasn’t worked, isn’t working and will continue to not work until you stop trying to call the bishop a bat.

In a sense, this is actually a levelling exercise too. Why is it that we only credit arthouse directors for their work? Is it because (to ask that classic sarky undergraduate’s question) ‘Shigofumi isn’t Art’? Because no grown-up in his or her right mind would enjoy a show about giant robots, fighting? Because Miyazaki won an Oscar while Ishihara merely defined tearful moe for legions of fanboys (not to mention the way ‘Kyou’s thighs’ are now firmly lodged in the consciousness even of those of us who resolutely avoided The Irish Family)? Because the sorts of people who write about Kon are prepared to spend a minute on research, while the sorts of people who write about Ohta are just downright lazy?

EDIT: Author comments on Jeff’s comments below; Avatar comments on Author’s comments on Jeff’s comments. I suppose this is the Law of Unintended Responsequences in action.

35 responses to “Studiotolatry

  1. While I don’t have the same kind of knowledge with the Japanese TV system as I do with the American, a couple things:

    1) TV in America anyway is considered a writer’s or producer’s medium not a director’s medium. I’m not sure if it’s the same way in Japan, but I would assume so.

    2) The heyday of the American studio system (for movies) was looked at the same way as people are seeing the anime industry. Each studio would have the same couple of directors doing their pictures, and even classics from this period like Casablanca or Grand Hotel get categorized like this due to the way that they were produced.

    3) In much the same way that those directors were tied to their studios, anime directors like Tomino or Anno are in much the same situation. Meanwhile, I have no idea what studio produced Paranoia Agent, because Kon isn’t part of a studio. I just know that he directed it.

  2. I whole-heartedly agree with what you’re saying here. It’s frustrating, even infuriating, to think so many people aren’t acknowledged for their talents. Goro Taniguchi is a favorite example of mine, too; Planetes and Infinite Ryvius are two of my all-time favourites, and I’ll begrudgingly accept that Code Geass is fundamentally entertaining and competent too (though I think my cynicism is tainted with the knowledge that Taniguchi should be above pandering to the masses in such blatant fashion). Another name that virtually screams ‘undervalued’ to me is Akitaro Daichi. The guy is supremely skilled, jumping from gut-wrenching sci-fi like Now and Then, Here and There to heart-warming shojo like Fruits Basket; even Animation Runner Kuromi is wonderful.

    @jpmeyer: Every single Kon production has been animated at Madhouse (perhaps with the exception of Magnetic Rose, his break-out feature). I know what you mean though, it’s because Madhouse don’t have a set style and favor the auteur influence. Everyone from Misaki Yuuasa, Yoshiaki Kawajiri to the works of Naoki Urasawa have been animated there and each one is completely different. That’s why I love Madhouse and Studio 4C; they regularly invest in unique talent and bank everything on that.

  3. I don’t know where the focus on studio comes from either; I pay just as much attention to the director, if that’s any comfort to you. The names Tensai Okamura, Makoto Shinkai and Satoshi Kon will immediately pique my interest (read: make me think “must watch!”); I’ve becomes such a Hideaki Anno fanboy that I can recognise his ‘Anno-isms’ right from the first scene (that goes for his live-action movies too).

    Certain studios attain a reputation but perhaps it’s that fans remember studios’ names more easily than the staff who work in them. I still can’t explain it.

  4. 2 things here.

    1. For what it’s worth, rather than idolise the studio (which I probably do) I don’t think it’s unfair to use a studio’s track record to gauge easier how good their future works are likely to be. If I know Kyoani did Haruhi and Kanon 06, I’m likely to enjoy Lucky Star too (even though that had different directors, I laughed out loud the whole way through.)
    Also, I’m terrible with Japanese names (I can barely remember the names of the cast in anything I watch that isn’t completely fantastic like the non-Air kyoani shows I’ve seen to date.)

    2. You should write about trainwrecks, I’m interested to read that. I didn’t think Gundam (specifically 00) was so much of a trainwreck as subpar, but I thought Higurashi NNKN was a fantastic trainwreck of a series.

    @ batezsi: holy crap, he did Code Geass as well as those other two (fantastic) shows? All that proves to me is that directors aren’t more consistent than studios – and don’t studios tend to use the same directors a lot anyway, while we’re on the subject?

    P.S I think it’s called a racket or paddle in table-tennis. >_>

  5. There’s also a tendency, I think, to attribute the entire creative output of a production’s staff to the series director alone, ignoring all of the individual episode directors, animation directors, sound directors, writers, character designers, and so on that contributed to the final product. And while some production teams do stick together to a certain extent, production staff typically doesn’t follow a director around. So, to assume that anything and everything a director works on will look and feel exactly the same is foolish.

    And, let’s face it: not all studios have a stable of directors and production staff they pull from for every show they produce. For those that do, you may see a lot of similarity between their various shows, but for those who don’t, output can be pretty diverse.

    Honestly, I think a lot of anime fans don’t have the foggiest understanding (or concern) for the general business of anime, both the creative aspect and the commercial aspect. How often do you hear a fan criticize an animation studio for a business decision it had absolutely nothing to do with, as if the giant media conglomerates bankrolling and controlling the production in the background didn’t even exist? And how often do you hear anime fans whine about getting “ripped off” by greedy anime “companies” without any real knowledge of, 1) how much money it costs to produce anime, 2) how little television broadcast ad revenue amounts to, and 3) how little the people working in the trenches get paid?

    I guess it’s easier to steal and crap on anime with a clear conscience if you pretend the person you’re stealing and crapping on is some fat cat sitting in an office in Tokyo, lighting cigars with 10,000 yen bills. Never mind the in-between animator hunched over his desk at work, slupring convenience store ramen at 4:17 AM, trying to meet tomorrow’s deadline. He better not not space the eyes a centimeter too far apart in that frame he’s working on, or there’ll be hell to pay on the message boards!

  6. @Jeff

    That’s also why film theory has been trying to get away from auteur theory in recent years.

  7. Hrm… interesting. I mean on a basic level I agree with you. I should pay more attention to the director rather than the studio.

    But on the other hand, I don’t. Now I’m not sure whether that’s laziness on my part. Or simply the fact that I can’t say I really care. I mean it’s interesting that Goro Taniguchi directed Infinite Ryvius, s-CRY-ed, Planetes and Code Geass. I mean I could track a trend through those works if I really wanted to. But does it really matter?

    I mean do I have to know that to enjoy the series? I mean I didn’t know it before. And it makes more sense now that I know it, but I’m not convinced that knowing the director is ultimately that important.

    Unless it becomes a brand name.

    I do think there’s a reason why people tend to group KyoAni works together and that’s because it’s easy to do. Especially if most of the major ones were directed by the same guy.

    And I kind of lean towards Shiri’s problem which is that it isn’t easy for me to remember the names of the directors, especially if I just skim over it and don’t do research. (Yeah, I guess I am lazy.)

  8. Animations studios, bah. I don’t see what all the fuss is about. I didn’t know a thing about them until I started reading anime blogs. In fact, I still don’t. It helps keep all my reviews unbiased and objective.

  9. @ jpmeyer: I must confess I know nothing about Japanese, American or indeed British television, never having owned a TV. But even if a director is tied to a studio, I’d still prefer to refer to the person; the studio is, after all, merely a legal and commercial entity and a set of working practices. Studios can’t give autographs.

    While I was using directors as an example, you’re probably right about the significance of writers and producers. I tend to focus on the mechanical design credits too (since they’re relevant to my interests).

    @ bateszi: Ironically, I think Geass is the only thing Taniguchi has directed which he’s also written the original story for. Perhaps his ability to pander so effectively to so wide a range of people is one of the things I find enthralling about the show, but I can see how – in comparison to something like Planetes – it could be irritating.

    Daichi’s a name I remember on the basis of Now and Then, Here and There alone. Maybe I should give Fruits Basket a whirl, especially since it’s legally available.

    @ concretebader: Anno-isms extend into his live-action work? Interesting.

    I’m at a loss to explain studiotolatry myself. As you can probably tell from my original entry, I’m tempted to slam anime fans for laziness, or to suggest it’s because the studio’s name is frequently the only part of the credits which is in Roman script. But that would probably be lazy and churlish.

    @ Shiri: True, sticking to the studio in the case of Kyoto Animation might work – though I must say I thought Lucky Star, while funny, wasn’t nearly as good as something like Haruhi – but the longer a studio exists for, and the more anime they produce, the less this will be the case. Watching Sunrise’s 1979 Cyborg 009 on the basis that one liked Escaflowne would be foolish.

    I’d like to write about trainwrecks myself, but it’s a big, tough subject and I’m struggling to refine my views on it. Perhaps something to put aside for the summer.

    As for table tennis paddles, all I know is that at school we referred to them as ‘bats’, and I didn’t think to look the word up.

    @ Jeff Lawson: Fair point that the director’s not the only name to look out for. (Come to think of it, the only character designer I can name off the top of my head is Hisashi Hirai, and that’s not for a good reason, either.) From a few articles I’ve read in recent months, I’ve got the impression that the people who actually draw the animation are living fairly hand-to-mouth – I’m also regularly surprised by how many people don’t know about the amount of animation work which is done outside Japan nowadays, for cost reasons. (As a former worker in the telephone-customer-service sector, I know exactly what it feels like to see your job being sent overseas.)

    If you realise it’s stealing, I’d say it’s almost impossible to do it with a clean conscience. But the idea of the giant, faceless anime corporation perhaps helps to promote the feeling that such stealing is a victimless crime.

    Interestingly, I’ve noticed a mellowing in the general attitude to Gonzo since their streaming experiment began.

    @ iniksbane: Certainly, you don’t need to know who directed, wrote, storyboarded and drew an anime series to enjoy it – otherwise none of us would be anime fans at all! And when it comes to analysis, grouping works by director or writer is just another move in the game – interesting, but not always necessary. In fact, part of this blog’s agenda – if it has one – is to compare things which have, because of the chronological difference between their creators, never been compared (TTGL and Paradise Lost).

    I suppose I’m arguing that the animation studio is a more unreliable guide than the various people who were involved in the production of the anime, if you’re looking for ‘anime like X, because I liked X.’ [Amusingly enough, since I'm using him as an example, Taniguchi did actually do storyboard and episode direction work on After War Gundam X, definitely one of the superior Gundams.]

    @ baka-raptor: Well, my fuss is about the otakusphere’s fuss about animation studios. But I suppose there’s a good argument to be made that, at least for the purpose of unbiased reviewing (or at least reviewing with as little bias as possible), one should watch anime in ignorance of both the staff and the studio name.

  10. Quite right about the Gonzo mellowing. Thank goodness someone’s willing to try it – I’ve been getting everyone I know to watch that thing if only to show support for it. (Now if only it were any good. Sigh.)

    In any case, this sounds like something empirical! Round up all Sunrise’s recent shows, all Gonzo’s, all Gainax’s, all Kyoani’s, and then do the same for a few directors. Then see whether your opinions of “better” or “worse” follow trends more closely to studios than to directors. I might actually go make a list for myself but I have a paper coming up in like 3 days which I still haven’t finished, so…

  11. I always believed in keeping things simple, so I don’t very much look at the directors of a series (unless the series is something I totally love, like H&C). It always had gone well for me just looking at the studios, and although this fosters bias towards certain studios, more often than not it offers insight to the performance of the series.

    For example, GONZO and KyoAni. One expects the former to self-destruct somewhere (and this is proven true most of the time), and one expects technical excellence from the latter (which is also true most of the time).

    I like simplicity. This is from anime to literature. I always preferred Hemingway to Joyce; I always liked simple story well-told (IMO) like Tsukihime rather than the serpentine convolutions of stuff like Ergo Proxy. Brevity is the soul of wit, and this is what inadvertently people apply.

    Just as people often shy away from Euphues, people shy away from the complexity (and tedium) of knowing more than what is needed or important …

    Just my two cents.

  12. The director thing, for me, is a relatively recent thing I’ve noticed. I started picking up on Koji Masunari when I noticed that he did Read or Die and Kokoro Library and Kamichu!, so I was suitably impressed that he managed to direct three series I think highly of.

    This was two years ago, and as I started to check the staff credits on ANN’s encyclopedia, I started seeing familiar names crop up all the time, and two series I liked that I had previously seen as discrete entities mysteriously became linked through a director, with the end result that I became interested in the director’s other work.

    Interestingly enough, I had high hopes for Gundam 00 (and was aptly rewarded in this regard) because Kuroda Yousuke was in charge of story composition. Among the Scryed and Honey & Clover writing credits, there was this little, teeny, tiny, so small you could barely see it Kokoro Library credit. That, coupled with rest of the scriptwriting credits, told me 00 would be quite incredible indeed.

  13. Oh, I forgot to mention–people I know on the Internet keep making reference to the fact that, in anime, directors and other staff member have very little influence over the final product.

    I don’t think I need to point out how ludicrous this proposition is, as you are probably already laughing, or shaking your head and sighing. I think I’m doing both.

  14. @ Shiri: Even though it’s not exactly great anime, Blassreiter‘s definitely suited to my tastes and I’m very happy to have the opportunity to watch it legally and pay for it.

    As for an emprical listing exercise . . . I suppose it might work, although it would have a limited, personal application as anime fans never manage to agree how better or worse than each other shows.

    @ Michael: Well, I harbour slightly heretical opinions about Kyoto and Gonzo being less consistent than most people think, but I take your point that following the studio is simpler. Though I don’t know if you can safely apply Ockham’s Razor to viewing decisions. Sometimes knowing what is needed and important does actually mean complexity.

    While I certainly agree that having a simple story can be a good thing, I personally don’t feel drawn to sparse writing like Hemingway’s. I think the man could’ve done with a few more semi-colons. Though the irritating balance of Euphuistic sentences takes it too far the other way.

    @ OGT: I think it can be quite entertaining looking up some obscure writers on ANN and trying to follow connections through the encyclopedia. And yes, it’s always odd to see someone arguing that the staff have no influence on the quality of the product. If they don’t, who does?

  15. It would indeed be personal, but my experiences particularly with those 4 studios indicate to me that whoever’s producing it does have an effect on the end result – significant enough that “studiolatry” wouldn’t be as bad as you seem to be making it out to be.

    I forgot about Blassreiter by the way, I was talking about Tower of Druaga. Then again, it’s taste-based anyway. I’ll see if I like Blassreiter though.

  16. It’s true. People seem to forget that an anime studio is comprised of people and not some brain in a jar.

  17. It’s disappointing that the various facets of anime production don’t get the recognition they deserve, I agree, but until recently it was the lack of recognition for screenplay/script/general writers that really got my goat. It’s always been something that irritated me about Western entertainment too, and judging by the recent writers strike in American the professionals agree.

    But my attitude has changed a wee bit recently. Specifically when I watched an interview with Yoji Enokido, screenplay/script writer of Utena, FLCL, Gunbuster 2 and parts of Rahxephon/Evangelion. In it he explained the process of writing and how he would write a few initial drafts and then the director, Kazuya Tsurumaki in this case (a major favourite of mine, of course), would retool and rearrange. Hideki Anno (the daddy) would do similar things. Basically, he explained in these cases the role of the writer was collaborative rather than the forbearer of all that followed, which I always used to believe (mainly due to English Lit and its copious egomaniacal control freaks).

    Needless to say it was enlightening. In general terms I think your aforementioned problem relates to people simply not caring enough to do the research. Any conscientious anime fan will start to notice a pattern in the anime they love and seek out the people responsible for it. It’s a shame it isn’t as widespread as it should be, but people are lazy and ungrateful. Anime is also rather niche in comparison to the large mediums like cinema that receive a lot of individual appreciation/recognition from fans (but again the writers seem to be mostly ignored). I guess it’s up to us to really celebrate individuals and up their profile, inconsequential as we might be.

  18. @ Shiri: You may be right, if you restrict yourself to recent shows (as you do in your original comment). The shorter the timespan involved, the more likelihood the same creative groups are going to be working at the same studios, I suppose. Since I have rather snobbish, retro viewing habits, I find studiotolatry unhelpful when deciding quite what to watch myself.

    @ BeInvoked: Thanks for the agreement! Good name, by the way; I’ve considered blogging about Space Runaway Ideon before, but I’ve never quite managed to clear the time to watch beyond the seventh episode.

    @ Hige: Hah, I know what you mean about egomaniacal control freaks. I’ve been told that the writer-director relationship can vary wildly from project to project (leaving aside examples – I think The Prisoner is one – where one man is filling both roles by the end of the process) and I suppose partly it must depend on really tangential issues, such as whether they actually get on or not.

    And yes, the best (and only) thing for me to do is to stop moaning about the issue and start talking about people more and studios less.

  19. I suppose that makes sense. I have rather snobbish, modern viewing habits (ha) so I haven’t seen a lot of the good older stuff. Crappy old animation really bothers me. I suppose I really should try some of the older stuff like that thing you mentioned in the article with a galaxy for a title picture…maybe when I have more free time.

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  25. I still believe that there is a grave misunderstanding here when it comes to anime. Especially when it comes to anime that created by the Japanese industry, for the Japanese viewers, and would evidentally end up licensed for release outside of the Asian market.

    Here’s what I’ve been saying:

    (Clannad) Youhei Sunohara should win a physical fight against Tomoyo every other episode.

    (Haruhi’s Melancholy) Haruhi should have a fist planted into her skull for slamming Kyon’s back of his head into her desk. Last I checked, that would give someone brain damage or leave them in a coma.

    (So Long, Mr. Despair) Remove suicidal “Mr. Despair” and add more Jun Kudou.

    (Anime based on visual novels.) They should be straight adult anime as opposed to moe borderline softporn. Especially since visual novels usually include sex (so the players can enjoy the girls).

    (Et Cetera.) Hideaki Anno, Rumiko Takahashi, Mitsuo Fukuda, Chiaki Morosawa, Tatsunori Konno, and their ilk need to be barred from the responsibilities of anything anime. Because they’re responsible for the crap they did in Japan, and they thought they could sell their ideas to the Western cultures and get away with it.

    Finally; it has nothing to do with having a narrow mind or gaining any form of fame. It has to do with the fact that, as “old guard anime fans” who still believe in putting money on titles they like, they like their money to be worth something.

    We understand that they’re suffering. It would help if they stopped messing around and cowering in their safety bubble.

    A show based on “Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS” starring Shinn Asuka (and ending with the show still starring Shinn Asuka) is not an impossible show to create. All it needs is someone with leadership, backbone, Gonzo, and Funimation.

  26. A show based on “Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS” starring Shinn Asuka (and ending with the show still starring Shinn Asuka) is not an impossible show to create. All it needs is someone with leadership, backbone, Gonzo, and Funimation.

    To appropriate and Britishise a phrase, MAYBE WE CAN!

  27. >>Animanachronism:

    That’s a bit of time and a spot on YouTube anyday. But what we need it something that’s officially done by an actual “company.”

    Questions are: Will they do it, or should we go ahead and do it ourselves?

  28. Tyrenol, I honestly cannot tell if you are trolling or if I simply do not understand what you are talking about in the comment 3 above mine…what does any of this have to do with Haruhi slamming Kyon’s head on her desk, and what does the half of that post with these “suggestions” have to do with the half about old guard anime fans?

  29. It’s a manual pingback for his LJ, so not all of it is relevant.

  30. That ain’t no “pingback.”

    I’m fighting against the bullcrap handed to me by most of Japan’s “animu” from the industry and the retards they cater to.

    The problem I’m finding is that there ain’t enough people, like me, who ARE fighting.

    Oh, and Shiri: You should try it sometimes. Have somebody grab you by the back of the head and slam it on something hard, like a table or so. Afterwards, why don’t you come back and tell me that it doesn’t hurt.

  31. You might be fighting against something, but it’s not entirely clear what you are fighting against. They don’t make anime like they did in the 60s/70s/80s/90s anymore because, well, temporally speaking, it is not the 60s/70s/80s/90s. It is the 00s. There is a particular breed of anime that is made in the 00s. Like it? Fine. Don’t like it? Also fine, but you’re essentially fighting a losing battle for whatever it is you’re fighting for.

  32. >>OGT:

    “There needs to be something for everyone.”

    When ten companies are making “the same thing in different costumes,” I worry.

    When companies like KyotoAnime are being hail as Godly; yet creating the same thing (with better animation) as the last company, I worry.

    When people are leaving said companies, starting their own, and end up doing the same damn thing that everybody else is doing…

    I sent e-mails to these companies; here in the US and Japan. I gave phone calls and complained. “I’m the only one who’s doing this.”

    I don’t have the resourses, I can’t make enough money to go to these conventions to get my point across. I’m doing the best with what I have in front of me.

    People like you; 90% of the animu fanbase who will readily accept the subtle bullying, the eye-candy, the ideas that the Japanese anime industry hands you. You flat-out disgust me.

    This fanbase of anime who likes to stoop the lowest common denominator and act like animals; then turn around to talk about how superior they are and how superior their shows are.

    I dealt with punks just like you; who’d play around with no concern for everyone else’s life. I stood up to stop them, had gotten beatened up, and nearly sent to jail because I’ve been forced to protect myself and threw the first punch. Those same bastards who ganged up on me had then hid behind the police in a cowardly fashion.

    I have no respect for these types of people. None.

    So when even the very people who work at the anime industry come out and say that anime is a niche market outside of Japan… even IN Japan, I feel better.

    Why should any self-respecting entity who cares about the future promote such garbage that’s spewed from that country? I still don’t understand why we in this country can’t do it ourselves. (We have the power, but not the gumption.)

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