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Kokoro ga Sakebi Tagatterunda (Director: Nagai Tatsuyuki)
Sometimes, people make the mistake of asking “what makes a good anime?” This is a rather common and unfortunate misattribution since no thing or object “makes” anime, people do. Hard working people who put in back-breaking amounts of effort to draw and compose every single instance of anime that comes and goes across the screen.
Among the casts and staff who partake in the production process, the director is thought to have an unusual position of influence such that his or her presence alone can determine the quality and style of an anime. Some directors like Miyazaki and Shinkai are famous for certain aesthetic and storytelling styles that their name alone becomes representative of them. However, 2015 marks a year where Miyazaki has gone back to retirement (hopefully not for the last time) and Shinkai has only just announced his next work, planned for release later next year. As such, this list serves as an overview of other noteworthy directors in 2015 who have ascertained their competence in making enjoyable and even meaningful anime.
10. Miura Takahiro
It is a pleasant surprise that one of the best shows of 2015 came from a relative newcomer of a director, albeit one who has a wealth of experience. Miura’s involvement in Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works marks the second time he has helmed the role of director after his debut in 2008 with the 6th Kara no Kyoukai film, making his directorial resume exclusive to adaptations of original works crafted by Type-Moon.
The 2015 Fate adaptation is a particularly intriguing point of reference as it serves as a second attempt to capture the Unlimited Blade Works storyline in anime form after Studio Deen’s less than satisfying attempt in 2010. Despite being a TV series, the 2015 adaptation succeeds not only in telling the story in an engaging and comparatively coherent manner, but also in looking a whole lot nicer. While it being produced by Studio ufotable, known for making only the most gorgeous of anime in recent years, definitely made a huge difference, the adaptation’s tendency to convey subtle messages through scene composition and visual symbolism is an indication of Miura’s competency and experience.
Miura’s short directorial resume hides the wealth of experience he has as an animator, episode director and storyboard artist for many of ufotable’s other works. If anything, his consistent involvement in ufotable works and increment in creative responsibility for them as the years pass makes him a reliable name to look for in a well-balanced and entertaining anime.
9. Kamei Kanta
Most anime fans todays are split between supporting and absolutely loathing the high school genre of anime shows, which is understandable since there still is not much of a fine line between using modern anime aesthetics to draw in viewers to a meaningful story and pandering to mindless fans who just want to have a good time. Lately though, there have been a few shows trying to prove that it is possible to do both at the same time.
Kamei’s major and only directorial effort in 2015 is a one cour high school romance show named Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata (Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend) which aired in the beginning of the year. Commonly shorthanded as Saekano, this show follows the footsteps of Lucky Star and Oreimo in exploring the bizarreness of Otaku lifestyles in Japan while also telling engaging personal stories of its charming cast. This sets the stage perfectly for Kamei’s to show his proficiency in handling both full-on pandering shows (Oreshura) and touching relationship stories (Usagi Drop), of which he creates a memorable package combining the two aspects in Saekano.
More importantly, Saekano is a nice follow-up to his previous efforts as director in Ryuugajou Nanana no Maizoukin, which had heaps of potential and attempted to adhere to a similar tone but was evident of his inexperience. Hopefully, Kamei can develop his talents for the recently greenlighted second season of Saekano.
8. Natsume Shingo
One Punch Man is probably the most hyped for anime this year. The expectations that fans of Murata’s manga could not have been met without it being one of the best action series ever. Thankfully, Natsume does just that by bringing together possibly the most prolific animation team for a one cour TV series and adapt into anime form a product so refined and well-crafted that not even the most cynical of Murata’s manga fans can find much fault in.
Natsume is also an individual who has a wealth of experience as an animator and episode director but not so for being a director. His only other directorial efforts are for the Space Dandy franchise, meaning that he must have been doing something very good there in order for him to be given the responsibility to adapt One Punch Man; needlessly to say, there is much about him that made him the right choice.
Natsume’s animation experience put legendary shows from the 2000s such as Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann and Tatamy Galaxy under his resume, familiarising him with anime chockful high-octane scenes that are not only cool to look at, but are also meaningful. His ability to form hyper-competent production teams, as must have been the case for One Punch Man, and his promising record of past contributions to the anime world makes him a director that everyone should expect the best from in his future works.
7. Asaka Morio
Unlike the previous three entries, Asaka Morio is no newcomer to directing anime. In fact, his record as a director is full of so many good shows that it would not have been at all surprising for him to be higher on this list.
Asaka only directed Ore Monogatari!! this year, a show which called for a creative mind who was capable of expressing the delicate and subdued aspects of its characters. Anime fans who are familiar with the more popular of Asaka’s previous works, namely Chihayafuru, Nana and Cardcaptor Sakura, may see how his tendency to tell an entire story through his shot composition and lighting leads to a dynamic and appealing adaptation, especially considering the original story was a shoujo manga.
However, Asaka’s proven competency actually makes Ore Monogatari!! somewhat of a disappointment as it fails to engage the viewer to the same degree that some of his previous shows did. Fans of Chihayafuru in particular might remember how the emotional stakes of some of the later matches kept them at the edge of their seats.
6. Nagai Tatsuyuki
No veteran anime watcher could have possibly expected Nagai Tatsuyuki to be a director for a serious Alternate Universe Gundam show. It simply was not considered in the realm of possibility. A space meteor might could have fallen onto the surface of the Earth before it happened. But alas, we live in a world where Tomino’s G no Reconguista is a massive flop and Nagai’s contribution to Iron-Blooded Orphans might make it the best addition to the TV series part of the Gundam franchise in the past two decades.
While Nagai’s most popular work is undoubtedly To Aru Kagaku no Railgun, his directorial style is best understood by examining his adaptations of Toradora! and Honey and Clover II. Nagai’s works often lead to the viewers forming very strong emotional connections with their characters because of his uncanny ability to make them feel real, and he manages to do so without their interactions ever feeling unnatural. In effect, Iron-Blooded Orphans becomes the first Gundam show in a long while to really put an effort in fleshing out its characters, putting a whole half a series in doing so before leaping into the action-packed fights and political conflicts that the Gundam franchise is known for. As of now, the show is still unfinished but has already accomplished through one cour what many Gundam shows have failed to do altogether.
Nagai is also one of the few directors in this list who took part in more than one anime released this year, having also directed the film Kokoro ga Sakebi Tagatte Irunda. Unfortunately, the film has yet to be made widely accessible to Western fans and was not taken into account for this list, but it is easy to see how it could have raised Nagai’s by a place or two.
5. Ando Masahiro
Ando’s major work this year is Akagami no Shirayuki-hime, which honestly had much less to do with its allusion to Snow White than some may have expected. Regardless, the show is a definitely example not only of shoujo shows done right, but also done to excellence. While much of this surely has to do with the quality of the original manga, there is quite a few aspects of creative brilliance in the anime adaptation.
Although Ando is not known for making anime that are popular or have really memorable stories, the closest to which being his work as an animation director to the Cowboy Bebop movie nearly two decades ago, he demonstrates repeatedly his aptitude in formulating an aesthetic style that are really fitting for his shows. For Akagami, he creates a world that can be both bright and fairy tale-like or grim and dangerous, depending on the situation that the characters face. Careful attention is given to the lighting and colour palette in order to accentuate the mood of the scene and the plot is carefully constructed so that we learn about but the world and the characters at a comfortable pace.
Ando is a well-rounded director whose greatest flaw is probably not being recipient to better source materials, which is not to excuse some of the writing problems in Canaan. Him directing Akagami no Shirayuki-hime proves that he is capable of fulfilling the potential of well-written manga and the second season of it, which is airing in the upcoming 2016 Winter season, promises to be among the best of its peers.
On a side note, Ando has also funded through Kickstarter a 30 minute long short anime named Under the Dog. To be released next year, this work may be the follow-up to the cyberpunk anime from yesteryear that many anime fans are looking for.
4. Oikawa Kei
In my humble opinion, Oikawa should have been higher on this list even considering the ridiculousness of the top three directors this year. However, to describe the precise reason would require an explanation that skirts dangerously with spoilers for a certain show, thus leading to this compromise.
Other than directing two seasons of Minami-ke and being part of the key animation team for Honey and Clover, Oikawa has no significant role in making anime. There is little to speak of for his directorial style either, since the former could not have much to do with his adaptation of the second season of Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Come wa Machigatteiru, oftentimes abbreviated as Oregairu. The fact that there is little to comment about his past makes his work this year a real curve ball that no one could have predicted.
As his only directorial effort this year, Oregairu Zoku is most notable for being a sequel to a rather memorable anime from 2013 that turned many heads because of its likeable characters and comedy. In the transition process to its second season, Feel replaces Brain Base as the animation studio and brings in an entirely new creative team, meaning that everything that was set as precedent was thrown out other than the voice actors and the singer of the OP, yanaginagi. As such, the second season can be thought of as a completely different work to follow-up an already competent anime series, meaning that it was probably more reasonable to expect it to worsen in quality than anything else.
In reality, not only is Zoku an improvement in many different technical aspects of the first season, it is also a brilliant adaptation to the interpersonal character stories of the original light novel series’ latter half that could easily have failed if it were not for the creative sense that the show exhibits. More than anything else, Oikawa creates some of the best dialogue-centric scenes that can be found in any anime and that, in combination to his knack of depicting character through subtle motions, is a talent that does wonders.
3. Kyogoku Takahiko
Kyogoku Takahiko directed the entire Love Live! franchise. All the music videos you can find of Muse’s catchy tunes, Kyogoku is the mind behind them. How can a single individual even handle that much creative responsibility?
To put it simply, the two seasons of Love Live! shows that Kyogoku is capable of making use amateur voice actors and characters who are supposed to be underdeveloped by design and tell engaging stories. As the only addition to the franchise this year was Love Live! The School Idol Movie, it may be appropriate to devote more attention on his other work this year, GATE: Jieitai Kanochi nite, Kaku Tatakaeri.
GATE as an anime adaptation to a popular manga is rather notable for employing a significantly different art style in order to make it easier for characters to move on screen. However, just a glance at the promo material shows that a significant amount of attention was placed in both the character designs and the background art. Few other series released this year had this much detail to every little thing that came onto screen and almost no show had as strong an opening set of episodes as GATE did in immersing the viewer into its setting. This really pays off when the plot reaches a plateau, and the detailed traits of each character really help keep the show interesting even when it has no right to be.
Kyogoku is therefore on his way to mastering the art of making not-very-cool things a lot more intriguing than its concept suggest. He did so with Love Live!, which really should not have been more than a collection of musical videos, as he will probably solidify his status as a legendary director soon enough when another potential mega-franchise reaches his hands.
2. Ishihara Tatsuya
Ishihara Tatsuya directed most of the better KyoAni. He then decided that his track record was not pristine enough and decided to defy all expectations by making a masterpiece out of Hibike! Euphonium.
Kyoto Animation is one of those studios where some fans have mixed feelings towards not because they make bad anime, but because they sometimes release a show that ends up being decent instead of really, really good. Hibike! Euphonium is really, really good when it was perceived by many fans to mirror K-On!, a less impressive KyoAni series, and may possibly end up being the studio’s most iconic franchise if the following season and films are anywhere as good.
Ishihara, being a participant to almost every KyoAni work in some way, is therefore an essential creative mind that is responsible for the studio’s consistent quality. His directing style revolves around the studio’s capacity of producing extremely high production value shows, of which he maximises the potential of by exploring all avenues of scene composition including lighting, body language, music and an absolutely phenomenal attention to movement. It is difficult to round up what Ishihara does well because he does everything well. For as long as Kyoto Animation and Ishihara keep making anime, there is no valid argument for people claiming that anime is dead.
1. Mizushima Tsutomu
It is likely that if you took interest in this article, you have also taken to heart Shirobako’s crash course on the anime industry. If not, do take delight in knowing that one of the best anime ever made is still ahead of you.
Mizushima Tsutomu’s brilliance lies in his mastery of communicating through the anime medium. Unlike Ishihara, none of his works are technical masterpieces in the sense that fans are wowed by the sheer beauty of whatever is on screen. Instead, Mizushima creates engaging and fulfilling moments in his storytelling by knowing exactly the kind of story he wants to tell and understanding the absolute limits of the anime medium. In effect, he is not afraid of drowning viewers in difficult terminology as he did in Shirobako because he fully expects, rightly so, that we would in our own effort attempt to learn the words used by creators of our favourite shows.
What also makes Mizushima the undoubted best director of 2015 is the notion that within a bit over a year, he taught all of us what the director of an anime does through Shirobako and showed in real life what he is capable of when he extended the Girls und Panzer der Film’s runtime by 30 minutes just because he and the production team wanted to. He made absolutely every moment of his anime a pleasure to watch by knowing what we as viewers want to see and pushing to the utmost limits of what a production team can do. On a bit of a side note, he also made adapted the ingenious Prison School manga into a just as ingenious comedy anime that as enjoyable as it is revolting, but I digress. To put it simply, Mizushima is likely the man who saved anime.
Shirobako (Director: Mizushima Tsutomu)
2015 was a year for many newcomer directors to really showcase their talents and was just another year on the job for some of the veterans. It is also definitely the year where Mizushima Tsutomu made his mark on the industry as a breakthrough director who set the bar ridiculously high for himself in the coming years. Hopefully, 2016 will be just as thrilling with some of the upcoming releases and even surprise us with some unexpected dark horses. If you guys feel that another director should have made the list or contest any of the choices, do leave your opinion in the comment section; I look forward to what you all have to say.
And with that, I wish you guys I very happy new year.