Answer: Quite a number of people actually. Though don’t ask me for names.
As much a fan I am of Studio Ghibli and all, I think it’s for the best that Hayao Miyazaki step down from feature films. I still love practically everything the guy puts out, but he’s definitely not as good as he was years ago and it’s best to leave before he sinks to the levels that Pixar has fallen under as of late. Spirited Away is a great film sure, but with everything else he’s done afterwards suggests that he’s better at writing for Ghibli than directing from now on. Plus, I haven’t heard the greatest things about his newest film, so…well it can’t be as bad as Tales of Earthsea, right?
But the question still remains: who’s going to pick up the slack after he’s gone? Well, as we’ve seen regarding Arietty and all, Miyazaki and Takahata have been training new animators to pick up their slack after they finally hang up their pens, so the studio seems to be in good hands I guess. But let’s say that Studio Ghibli did finally crash and die. Would that be the death of anime? The obvious answer is “of course not”. There’s a load of stuff I like more than a bunch of the Ghibli movies. However, the loss of one of my favorite directors is still pretty big. Especially considering that other than Miyazaki, you’d be hard-pressed to get me to name someone I respect as much as him.
If you were to ask me to name some current directors who I do respect as much as Miyazaki off the top of my head, I would instantly go to Shinichiro Watanabe. I’ve made it clear before that I’m a huge fan of the guy, further reinforced by the fact that I loved Kids on the Slope. You know he’s bringing back the western space opera genre that died out for some reason next Winter? I’ve seen some people complain that we should let it stay dead, but these are also people who think Railgun is a good anime, so I say for them to shut up. Anyways, the guy is multi-talented and I love how he’s willing to tackle a variety of genres. Don’t exactly know what took him so long to do so, considering that until now he wasn’t exactly the most active guy around. Just goes to show how fucked up the anime industry is.
Masaaki Yuasa is another director I like about as much Miyazaki. In some ways, he’s a lot better because his stories tend to be more out there and I love my “out there” stories. On the downside, his animation gimmicks can be too much even for me to handle. However, just like Miyazaki, I loved practically everything he’s done (including the “sort of reviled” Kemonozume) because more often than not he manages to utilize his gimmicks in order to enhance his stories, whilst even letting them be the story at times. Got to give props to him for that. Why his stuff is never licensed here, I’ll never understand. Because we really need an English dub of Project ICE, don’t we?
And…those are about the only two directors I can think of off the top of my head that I still really love and respect. There are some other directors I like but they’re hard to judge at the moment. My respect for Hideaki Anno is high of course, but it’s kind of hard to judge him as of right now because he’s just doing the Evangelion Rebuild movies at the moment. Katsuhiro Otomo is great and I generally like his stuff with the exception of Steam Boy and Metropolis (though I think it’s Rintaro who was at fault there because the writing seemed good), but it’s hard to gauge him at the moment and I’ll need to see Short Peace to reconfirm my views on him. And speaking of Rintaro, I haven’t really liked much of his stuff and the last thing he put out was that CG kid’s film, Yona Yona Penguin, which was years ago. It’s also why I’m not bringing up guys like Mamoru Oshii and Yoshiyuki Tomino. I’m not big on their stuff and they haven’t been doing anything recently, so it wouldn’t matter.
Imagawa? I really like some of his robot stuff, but…well he’s currently writing for that Gifuu Doudou anime, which is probably the first time he’s been active after Shin Mazinger Z. And not only is the anime bad, he’s not even directing for it. Also, don’t even bring up Kenji Kamiyama and the snorefest that was Re: Cyborg 009. Guy is really starting to lose control.
Unfortunately, I don’t know the name of a single person in Madhouse at the moment. And I doubt anyone else does either unless you’re one of those sasuga freaks.
The only other active directors that I consider unique and always pay attention regardless of my opinions on them are Makoto Shinkai, Mamoru Hosada, and Yasuhiro Yoshiura. I’ve seen the other two being touted as the next Miyazaki whilst Yoshiura has one of the most unique directorial styles I’ve ever seen, but they don’t exactly churn out stuff that impresses me on a regular basis so I can’t say I really respect them too much. Shinkai has a great style that I absolutely love with awesome themes he’s conveying, but the surface level tends to be awful. Mamoru Hosada is visually talented, but like Shinkai, his stories aren’t exactly up to scratch. None of them are bad or anything, but they ain’t exactly ambitious either. And Yoshiura? I love his style, but his storytelling ability is not very good. He has a problem of having too many ideas without giving himself enough time to express what he wants, which tends to cause his anime to conclude in some of the stupidest ways possible (*cough* Pale Cocoon *cough*). We’ll see if my opinion of him changes once I get to see Patema Inverted, but yeah I’m not going to hold him on a pedestal like others do until he actually fulfills his potential.
Satoshi Kon and Ryuutaro Nakamura are dead so they don’t count, unfortunately. Otherwise, they’d be in the same throne I put Yuasa and Watanabe. Seriously, the anime they were going to make before they died looked great. Real shame.
Anyone who’s expecting to see me shower praise on Akiyuki Shinbo obviously hasn’t paid much attention to my feelings regarding Shaft. Simply put, I don’t like where the company is going. Shinbo’s a talented guy who’s worked on some pretty great comedies like Arakawa and Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, with Soremachi being the pinnacle of his weird zaniness. But ever since he started getting money, it’s gotten annoying to see him doing the same low-budget tricks over and over, and it hasn’t helped that the stuff most people adore like Madoka and Monogatari are stuff I don’t get into.
And of course, throw Shin Oonuma into the mix. Okay to be fair, his latest two anime aren’t that bad (at least I heard regarding Prism Illya, as I couldn’t even finish the first episode), but the fact still remains that he’s a gimmicky director who’s not the least bit funny. Seeing his Shaft rip-off tricks is just painful because it doesn’t cover up the fact that his animation is piss poor and it’s really boring to watch. I just don’t get this guy.
Oh and my feelings on Kenji Nakamura? Boooorrrrrriiiinnnnnggggg!
I also haven’t brought up Kunihiko Ikuhara because he’s only done two things. One of them is Utena, an anime I adore to death. Unfortunately, the other is Penguindrum, an anime I couldn’t stand. Can you see why I’m hesitant to call him great? And Seiji Kishi is pretty hit and miss too, so despite being a guy whose name I do recognize right off the bat, he’s just too unreliable as a whole.
The point I’m trying to make is that whilst there are studios like Bones who’ll churn out some stuff I like more than Princess Mononoke and the like, the individual directors still active that I actually give a crap about are kind of low. Yes, I like Casshern Sins, but that’s as far as my love for the guy who directed it goes. KyoAni has a bunch of different directors, even though they share most of the same qualities, that do some good work, but there’s no individual style I can really sink my teeth into. White Fox…does anybody know the School Days/Jormungand director’s name? Or anyone else who works for that studio? And yeah, you’ve come to the wrong blog if you think I’d like Chiaki Kon or any of the other frequent JC Staff folk.
Miyazaki retiring from directing won’t be the worst thing in the world, no. In fact, I think it’s a good thing. But the fact that he’s one of the only current anime directors that I still give a crap about means that I’m still going to care a whole lot for his leaving. And the fact that there’s very few recognizable directors out there to still provide entertainment at the consistently good quality he always gave me just goes to show that A) I probably need to put effort into remember more names B) how unique a figure he was. I will miss your films Miyazaki. Just…please stay retired from directing this time, okay?