12 Days of Meditations #3: Why bother with trying to know creators and studios?

When I was starting to get into anime seriously, I encountered people who would discuss creators and studios. This was a big quantum leap for me, having framed anime in terms of “good” or “not good” only. Why are they talking about who made what? Why bother? I thought.

Maybe some of you are asking the same question. Why does it matter? What do we gain from doing so?

Shortly after that encounter, I began to read about studios and people responsible for making anime–directors, character designers, scriptwriters, animation directors, and composers. If I was going to talk to these people, I would have to understand what they were talking about. Slowly but surely my understanding grew, and with it I started doing  something utterly surprising:

I would seek out shows based on who made them!

The anime watering hole I used to frequent, the Megatokyo Forums, was fond of Akiyuki Shinbo. Hidamari Sketch, one of my all-time favorites, had been dubbed as “that damn new Shinbo show” in its thread title. Now, I wasn’t ready to enjoy Hidamari Sketch then, but I had been watching Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, from the same studio and director. When the cool cats in the forum started talking about Shinbo this, Shinbo that, I looked up his body of work, since I liked what I was watching and wanted to see something similar. It pointed me out to fantastic stuff like Starship Girl Yamamoto Yohko and The SoulTaker. And while I was watching these shows, I was able to gain a much greater insight on Shinbo’s style. What do you know, I grew as an anime fan!

Now, I don’t think this creator fascination is different from, say, film or TV. However, anime is insulated from us non-Japanese fans by its linguistic and cultural layers. If we are to understand it without learning the language and the culture, we would have to turn to its creators to give us a stronger familiarity with the medium.

It may seem a lot of work for disposable entertainment, but it’s actually a whole lot of fun. I could think of a few reasons why learning about the people who make anime could heighten a fan’s sense of enjoyment:

  1. It allows you see other shows that are (generally) similar to your favorites
  2. It makes you understand creators’ styles and their quirks
  3. It gives you a better appreciation for anime

It allows you see other shows that are (generally) similar to your favorites

Anime is vast. There are so many shows that one can’t help but be overwhelmed sometimes with what to watch next. What I learned by studying anime creators is that they tend to have a niche of their own: the aforementioned Shinbo has a striking visual style that goes for economy of presentation over highly-detailed animation. Yoshiyuki Tomino, the father of Gundam, makes a lot of mecha shows, with a reputation for heartlessly killing off characters. Shoji Kawamori, founder of studio Satelight and mastermind of the Macross franchise, is a peace-loving hippie.

Now, if you’re at a loss with what to watch, you could simply bring up your favorites, read through the production staff, and check out what the other shows they’ve done. Chances are, you’ll find something to your taste. And even if you don’t like what you saw, I daresay it’s interesting to talk about this with like-minded people. Try it out! Even if you’re never going to engage with anime beyond simple entertainment, this method will help you find shows you like faster.

It makes you understand creators’ styles and their quirks

Anime is made by people. People have their own preferences or biases. Sometimes it’s so strong that they’re stereotyped–Shinbo makes glorified PowerPoint presentations instead of animation, Tomino is a misogynist, and Kawamori always has an insidious environmental theme he loves to insert in all of his shows. Stepping back a bit, a person will tend to have something he or she wants to do.

By going through an anime creator’s portfolio, we can pinpoint trends or preferences. We can see his or her sense of style as it develops and changes throughout the years. I’d say that Tomino has gone a long way from his Zeta Gundam days after directing Turn A Gundam and Overman King Gainer. And when you see that change for yourself, it’s a whole lot of satisfying.

Sometimes we become fans not only of anime, but of the people who make them, too. I, for one, am a fan of the following people: Yoshiyuki Tomino, Noboru Ishiguro, Yasuhiro Imagawa, Kunihiko Ikuhara, Goro Taniguchi, Masami Obari, Haruhiko Mikimoto, Ichiro Itano, Yoko Kanno, and a whole lot more. I make it a point to watch these people’s works. And most of the time, I’m pleased with what I see.

It gives you a better appreciation for anime

Anime is made by a lot of people. I learn something new every now and then–I recently learned that it pays well to notice the sound director than just the composer or the voice actors. Until last year I only truly understood the difference between a director and an animation director.

It’s easy to frame anime in terms of “good” or “not good”. But have you thought about what went through a show’s production? Of the disagreements and eureka moments? Of the amazing larger-than-life anecdotes about people doing something insane? Doesn’t it make you treasure anime more? These shows wouldn’t be around if not for the valiant toiling of people like you and me. Oftentimes it’s a thankless job; the least you and I could do is to know what they’ve gone through in order to deliver us what we love. Maybe you could become a lot more forgiving after reading about a show’s production.

It also lends well to discussion. Now that you know how a particular anime was made and who made it, you can engage in deeper conversation than other people, explaining directorial styles and whatnot. A few anecdotes about the production could spice up the conversation!

* * *

Now, you might ask, how do I get started? Simple. Just identify your favorites and look up who made them. You could start from the director, or look at the character designer if you’re an art person, or the composer if you’re into music (like me!). From then on you could track down a single person’s body of work, see who he or she worked with (chances are they’re going to be the same kind of people), and track those people down next. Before you know it, you already have an influence web of creators you could jump off from. There’s so much to love, and I doubt that you’ll run out of people to admire.

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2 Responses to 12 Days of Meditations #3: Why bother with trying to know creators and studios?

  1. omo says:

    I cannot fave this post moar.

    I would also recommend a more direct way. Watching the shows made from a single director or something only goes so far. I think you need to get more context, and a big part of that is actually reading directly what the production staff has to say about the shows they worked on.

    It’s like I just read the first 3 CTFK talks translated here:
    And unless you are familiar with the works referenced, it won’t be nearly as interesting. And if you did watch the works reading it would suddenly make a lot of sense.

  2. This is a big part of transitioning into a more serious anime fan. It is also one of the best ways to filter the stuff you watch if you want to proactively seek stuff out rather than wait for recommendations or just guess.

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