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.
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.
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?