Patlabor 2 is widely considered to be one of the best anime films ever made. For all those involved, it was an incredibly ambitious and important production, far more than the first movie which had come out 4 years prior. Director Mamoru Oshii himself stated, somewhat provocatively, that, “as far as I’m concerned, the only Patlabor I’ve made is Patlabor 2. It’s the only thing that I can proudly call my own work”. As controversial as that statement may be, it is true that Patlabor 2 is a step-up in nearly every aspect compared to its predecessor, from its budget to production pipeline to Oshii-isms. Beyond this, Patlabor 2 is generally held to be one of the most important and influential works in Japanese animation and one of the defining movies of the 1990s - not so much for its extremely coherent aesthetic and deeply thought-out writing, but rather for the unique elements it introduced in the Japanese animation pipeline: a renovated layout system, new ways of using CGI and a still-unmatched ability to challenge live-action cinema techniques. Starting from the movie’s staff and production methods, this article will try to retrace how all of these elements coalesced to produce such a cohesive whole.
The two Patlabor movies directed by Mamoru Oshii are landmarks in anime history. Even without considering their intrinsic artistic qualities, their importance for the development of the aesthetics and techniques of Japanese animation cannot be overstated. Major works in the post-Akira landscape, they played a key role in the maturation of realist animation and contributed to introduce capital players such as studio Production IG, director Satoshi Kon, or animators Kazuchika Kise and Hiroyuki Okiura. And that is not all, as they were also central for the development of 3DCG animation and the spread of the modern layout system, which thoroughly changed animation craft. In other words, they are essential works in order to understand Japanese animation of the last 30 years.
Like its 1977 predecessor Rascal the Raccoon, 1978’s The Story of Perrine is among the least-known World Masterpiece Theater entries in the English-speaking sphere. Such does not seem to be the case in Japan, where a recent popularity poll placed it second, ahead of such popular entries as Anne of Green Gables or A Dog of Flanders. The easiest explanation for this is probably that, as we will see, Perrine is among the most melodramatic in the WMT’s 70s lineup. But, just like Rascal and Flanders, it is a very uneven production - although it may be the best non-Takahata work in the series in some aspects.
suo Yoshida’s death from liver cancer on September 5, 1977, is generally understood as a turning point in the history of studio Tatsunoko. Although his sickness was known among the studio’s top brass, few, if any, were aware of its seriousness, and nobody expected that their leader would be gone so soon. Because of Yoshida’s stature within the company - that of a kind, paternalistic and appreciated boss, but also the face and name of Tatsunoko - this was no doubt a traumatic event for many. Aside from the mark Yoshida left as a person, however, there remains a question: did his death really change anything for the studio as a whole?
Without any aim to be comprehensive, this article will follow these developments and focus on two shows: 1974’s Hurricane Polymar and 1976’s Gowapper 5 Godam. Although very different, both works are good examples of Tatsunoko’s development in the middle of the 70s: in terms of staff, the studio increasingly opened itself to the rest of the industry, but in terms of inventivity, it was rather closing. This contributed to the formation of an instantly-recognizable Tatsunoko aesthetic and brand, but also entailed a diminishing creativity, further decreased by the series of exodus that went on in those years.
If one single work were to sum up Tatsunoko’s entire production, it would probably be Science Ninja Team Gatchaman. By far the studio’s most iconic series, it was already one of its most popular when it came out. It started airing in 1972, 10 years after the creation of the studio, and 5 years before the death of its creator and leader, Tatsuo Yoshida. Due to this special position, Gatchaman easily stands as an exceptional high point in Tatsunoko’s early history. Moreover, because of its length (105 episodes!) and the changes that occurred within Tatsunoko during its production, it symbolizes the end of an era for the studio: it is, in a sense, the last work from its “early years”. Indeed, it would be so hard to replicate Gatchaman’s success that most of Tatsunoko’s following works are more-or-less simple copies or parodies of it. It would not be until Yoshida’s death and the production of a new Gatchaman series, in 1978, that the studio would find again the creativity and originality of its first years.
hern stands out among studio Tatsunoko’s productions for its unusually dark worldbuilding and dramatic intensity. It was also perhaps one of the studio’s most difficult productions - a direct result of the difficult context it was made in. In earlier articles, I highlighted Tatsunoko’s position in regards to industry-wide aesthetical shifts, such as gekiga anime or mecha animation. This time, it’s time to focus on changes in business practices, staff policy, merchandising and politics - all things that were triggered by one of the most important crises faced by the anime industry throughout its history.
mixture of expressionist motion and anatomical realism was born. It was also the moment when another one of anime’s key stylistic features developed: mechanical animation. Early TV anime had featured mechanical objects such as spaceships, planes, cars and robots, but it was only by the end of the 60s that “mecha animation” started being acknowledged as a distinct artistic process with its own specific techniques, modes of expression, and expertise different from both character and effects animation.
The “realist” aesthetic and approach of the show was possible thanks to its director, who in fact debuted as chief director: the second of the three Yoshida brothers, Ippei Kuri. Largely overshadowed by the other two rising anime directors of the time that were Isao Takahata (in Tôei) and Osamu Dezaki (in Mushi), Kuri was easily on par with them in terms of artistic vision; one may even argue that him and Tatsunoko’s artists and technicians largely laid the ground that would make Dezaki’s expressionist style possible. In that regard, Sanshirô can be read as a site for formal and technical experimentation, wherein “realism” was but one of the many aspects that were explored.
anese animation studios whose origins go back directly to the so-called “first anime boom” - that is, the development of TV animation. For that reason, Tatsunoko’s first years are chronologically distant and the stuff of some legend: after all, wasn’t the studio one of the pioneers? Didn’t they contribute to forever change the way animation would be made, first in Japan and then in the entire world?