I realize this post will probably reek of BS and seem completely obvious, but I feel I should qualify my judgments when I say “such and such sucks” and “such and such owns.” Hopefully this post will give you a look into how I break things down.
While watching Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels the other night, I came to a startling realization: I really like it when a director goes balls out, bucks convention, and just makes whatever he thinks is cool. I suppose this is something I’ve always known, but I just realize it every now and again. I can’t say I’m much of a film buff, but I find I like movies like Smoking Barrels a lot. Movies with lots of guts, attitude, and wit. Incidentally, I’m also a fan of (surprise, surprise) Quentin Tarantino. However, I can’t talk about Guy Ritchie or Tarantino in the same way I can talk about anime directors, since I’m just don’t know much about them outside of what I see in their movies–and I haven’t seen all of their movies. I’m too busy watching anime!
But yeah, bucking convention. I suppose lots of directors want to make what they think is cool, but that doesn’t always mean bucking convention, nor does it mean always making something I think is cool. So we’re down to a very specific slice of entertainment that really scratches my weird itches here: Stuff that goes out of its way to not conform to established conventions, and has an attitude I can dig. This type of attitude usually involves just being up front about a lot of things, throwing subtly to the side, and doing things with a lot of style. A distinct sense of style. But that alone doesn’t cut it; the director also has to have some real obvious interests that are placed front and center throughout. They have to be passionate about their interests, and by making something awesome around this passion, they have to convince you that it’s awesome as well.
Here are some examples:
- The aforementioned Tarantino and Ritchie. Taratino is a big film nerd and pop-culture junkie, and it shows in his movies. Ritchie clearly grew up in the midst of Lock Stock and Snatch, and that authenticity shines through. Dude also has a killer taste in music.
- Eva’s early episodes are filled with not-at-all subtle homages to old tokusatsu shows, and it’s that passion and attitude that gives the first half its charm. Of course, everyone knows the second half is a big throwback to classic anime mindfucks the likes of Gundam, Devilman and Ideon.
- Pizzicato Five’s music is all about paying homage to and sampling (sometimes outright copying) music Konishi Yasuharu digs, and remixing it into something energetic and fun.
So I was thinking about all these things I like, and wondered: How does my ol’ buddy Shinbou fit in? I think what strikes anyone about Shinbou’s work at first glance is a very clean and keen sense of design. The man is a trained designer, so this isn’t a surprise. But when you look even further you begin to see an appreciation for all manner of strange things: Complex metal structures, antique furniture, abstract art, and when he was younger he really liked skulls and crosses. We all have that phase, I guess. But he also has a keen ear for music, especially when it comes to old pop, as heard in seiyuu covers of Showa-era j-pop that runs in the background of Natsu no Arashi.
Shinbou’s works have their ups and downs, and these elements don’t shine as strongly in some works as they do in others (mostly by virtue of the works they’re adapted from) but these motifs are part of why I enjoy the man’s work. When he joined SHAFT, I think his work took an astronomical step upwards due to the mixture of the studio’s liberal attitude towards animation, the types of works they were handling, as well as the creative talent there. Bringing people like Oishi Tatsuya in to do their own thing along side Shinbou and all the other staff there (even inbetweeners) results in a very creatively diverse body of work in which multiple passions shine through. Bakemonogatari is particularly great because SHAFT’s prowess is matched against Nisioisin’s mad scripts, the result being a show bursting with different artists asserting their ideas of what’s cool.
I enjoy work like this because it’s extremely personal, and the personalities happen to be off-kilter people. I’m an off-kilter guy, so I can relate to them. Seeing them push their passions forward through their work establishes a personal link between me and the work, more so than work that is “safe,” and works within established conventions. Sure, I can enjoy works like these as well, but weirder stuff will always have the edge up.
One should make art for themselves–and if someone else happens to like it, that’s great, too.
As a side note, I think Shinbou is like Konishi when it comes to output: Konishi put out a ton of Pizzicato Five songs, and not all of them were great. In fact, a lot of them outright sucked, but he always put the same edge on his music, and managed to pump out a ton of hits along with his stinkers. Shinbou’s similar: He makes a lot of things, and while some of them aren’t that great (most of his 2010 work, really) each work still has a distinct edge to it that you don’t see elsewhere. And his batting average is pretty good as well.
Yamakan? He’s Nakata Yasutaka, of course… Well, that doesn’t really work, I guess.