Hayao Miyazaki has retired, Ghibli seems to be ending... can anything take their place and match their successes? We examine the evidence.
For some pundits, the question, “Who is the next Miyazaki?” is as wearisome as, “Why do anime characters have big eyes?” Anime expert Jonathan Clements, author of the indispensable Anime: A History, argues that Hayao Miyazaki was simply unique, as was his artier mentor Isao Takahata (Princess Kaguya) and the Ghibli studio they co-founded.
But if you’re looking not necessarily for the next Hayao Miyazaki, but just for anime with a similarly popular touch – accessible to mainstream, international viewers, with a sense of poetry and wonder – then there are candidates. In recent years, there have been some excellent anime movies that feel Ghibli-esque without being imitations. Two cases are Patema Inverted, in which a girl discovers an upside-down world where she’s in constant danger of plunging into the sky; and Giovanni’s Island, a fantasytinged history drama about two boys on an island occupied by Russia in the 1940s.
But the big directors often compared to Hayao are Makoto Shinkai and Mamoru Hosoda. Makoto first came to attention with a short film, Voices of a Distant Star, which he made practically solo. He’s since developed sumptuous feature films, such as 5 Centimeters per Second, which are often themed around love-struck teenagers. His 2011 Journey to Agartha looked great, but failed to build a world as compelling as Hayao’s. Far better was 2013’s Garden of Words, a 46-minute intimate drama about a boy and a woman meeting in a Tokyo park in Japan’s rainy season.
making use of digital tools
The rain is a key element of Garden of Words. “The droplets of rain in the air are particle simulations,” Makoto explains, “and the rain splashing in puddles and in lakes, the ripples, the spray, that’s hand drawn.” Rain was an important part of Ghibli films such as Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service. “I was impressed by their use of rain, but they were made in the days of analog… I wanted to see if I could make the rain in Garden of Words look as impressive, using the computer.”
However, it’s Mamoru Hosoda who’s the hot anime name at the moment. Notoriously, he was hired by Ghibli to make Howl’s Moving Castle, only for his version to be rejected. Since then he’s made his name through his own outstanding feature films, with winning characters and strong themes: The Girl who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars and The Wolf Children. Mamoru’s latest film in Japan is The Boy and the Beast, which has elements of Spirited Away and The Karate Kid. A boy finds a world of talking, brawling animals and becomes apprenticed to a bear-like bruiser.
At the recent Tokyo Film Festival, Mamoru said, “When I have an idea in my mind, I can’t help thinking about how I can express it, how can I make it wonderful, to make people laugh. It’s the sheer pleasure of making it happen that drives me through making the film.” He says The Boy and the Beast was inspired by the birth of his son. “I’m thinking as a parent, how is he going to grow up, how are we going to raise him? Is he going to be able to find a soul mate or some master from whom he can learn about life?”
clients who approach him usually ask him to design cute girls. We were the first team to ask him for hero designs. So he kept asking, ‘Seriously? You chose me?’ We wanted him to draw cute girls too, but we mainly wanted him to draw heroes.”
Tiger & Bunny is now being developed as a live-action Hollywood film co-produced by Ron Howard, who calls it “a great buddy story.” In Japan, Tiger & Bunny has been followed by more eccentric hero anime, such as Samurai Flamenco, a show which begins like Kick-Ass and then becomes closer to Monty Python. Another series, Gatchaman Crowds, features a cheery heroine, campy silliness, knotty politics, social networks and an eye-scorching colour scheme. The word Gatchaman tips the hat to a seminal 1970s anime of that name, recut in the west as Battle of the Planets.
Away from the usual hero shows, the outstanding Steins; Gate is about ordinary youngsters – or at least ordinary eccentrics - who are conducting research into time travel in Akihabrara, Tokyo’s geek mecca of computer stores and maid cafés. The serial’s first half blends sitcom and conspiracy drama, then the show transforms into a white-knuckle thriller and time-travel drama that puts Doctor Who to shame. Based on a visual novel (a computer game where you choose your way through a branching storyline), the show will be followed by a quasi-sequel, Steins; Gate 0, depicting one of the story’s alternative timelines.
Conve ying the joy of animati on
The last word should go to two graphically dazzling series. Ping Pong, unusually, is a sports anime getting a release in Britain (you might have seen a live-action film version of the same Ping Pong manga, using Matrix-style effects). In the animation, characters move in loose, idiosyncratic ways; there are crazy pavings of split screens; and yet it’s also a heartwarming comedydrama. “I want to see more relaxed animation coming
We wanted him to draw cute girls, but we mainly wanted him to draw heroes
from Japan,” director Masaaki Yuasa told twitch. com. “Animation where everything is not perfectly drawn. The strict way it looks now, it sometimes seems like working on anime is more pain than pleasure! I prefer to have joy in making animation.”
A similar spirit animates the manically bonkers-on-a-jetpack Kill la Kill, where a girl with giant scissors and a vampiric talking sailor suit takes on a massive fortress-academy and its superpowered staff. Space and time bend like a Looney Tunes toon, but with more orgasmic explosions. The show’s by the same team as Gurren Lagann, a mad mecha show from a decade ago. Its makers have now formed their own outfit, Studio Trigger.
One of the Triggers, Shigeto Koyama, was asked what distinguished anime from American animation. “I feel that Japanese animation is more complicated, more fetishistic,” he said, “and that there’s more division into different art styles, more of a need to continually come up with new ideas.” He admitted, though, the downside to this creative splurging. “It makes it a little bit hard for ordinary people to understand and follow sometimes.”
The action of The Boy and the Beast shifts between a fantasy world and the real-life Shibuya district in Tokyo, pictured. The many simplified backgrounds seen in Giovanni’s Island were created by an Argentinian artist, Santiago Montiel. Rain is the central image in Garden of Words, the rain
effects created both by hand-drawing and CGI.
CH ILDREN’S HISTORY
In Steins;Gate, a motley group of youngsters in the geek mecca of Akihabara discover the secret of time travel. In the hyper-manic, hyper-cartoony Kill la Kill, a girl warrior has her power boosted by her
sentient, blood-drinking school uniform!
The teenage Dragon Kid is the youngest of the superhero characters in Tiger & Bunny,
and the only Chinese member.
Masaaki Yuasa’s Ping Pong has some of the most unusual artwork in a commercial TV anime. Tiger & Bunny uses some
specifically Japanese superhero conventions, such as the tendency for heroes to ride motorbikes. Magic Girl heroines like those in Madoka Magica have been a staple of anime since the 1960s. This sultry female giant plays a central part in the second half of the Attack on Titan anime.