We’ve gone over Imaishi’s two series, “Gurren Lagann” and “Panty and Stocking”, so in this third and final part of the retrospective, it’s time to go over some of the smaller contributions he’s made. Perhaps a small biography is in order.
Hiroyuki Imaishi got his start by working at Gainax as a key animator for the infamous deconstructive mecha show “Neon Genesis Evangelion”. He would continue to do work on other shows like Diebuster, Oval X Over, and a few shows covered in this part of the retrospective. It wasn’t until 2007 that he got to direct his own series, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. And, as stated in the previous part, in 2010 he got to direct his second series, Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt.
Of course, working at Gainax, one of the notable things Imaishi worked on was the cult-hit, “FLCL” (pronounced “Fooly Cooly”). He was responsible for the “manga” scenes in the show’s first and sixth episodes, but his biggest contributions are from the fifth episode, where he was the animation director. To put it into perspective, the 5th episode is one that even the FLCL fans think is balls-out insane, and this is a show about an alien girl who smashes into a grade-schooler with her Vespa, hits him on the head with a Rickenbacker bass (which is also a gun), and that opens up a portal in his forehead which robots can come out of (and this is all supposed to be an allegory for sexuality and coming-of-age).
Imaishi’s fingerprints on this episode are pretty damn obvious when you look at it after seeing his series. There’s a much more punchy animation style, the theme of the episode is wonton gunplay (which can be found in the soon-to-be-mentioned Dead Leaves, as well as Panty’s whole character in Panty and Stocking), and Naota even decides to man up and give an epic manly speech to his brother’s clingy ex-girlfriend, Mamimi.
This episode also features some weird art direction shifts, like when Commander Amarao is at the hair salon, and it switches from him in the thick-line Imaishi style, to South Park style, as later seen in the beach episode of Panty and Stocking. There’s even some fun shout-outs to other anime, such as a Lupin the 3rd gag right at the beginning, and Haruko parodying Daicon IV in the middle of the (epic) fight scene.
Believe it or not, but this was actually the first episode of FLCL I ever saw, back in the days when we would get on the P2P file-sharing networks. (It was the first episode that downloaded, and I was too excited to see what all the hullabaloo was about.) It definitely left an impression on me, as did the rest of the series, but I dare say this is still my favorite episode of the short show, even before knowing it’s by my favorite anime director. And just in case, if you haven’t seen FLCL yet, get on it. It’s only 6 episodes long and it manages to tell a better story in those 6 episodes than a lot of big anime like Bleach or Naruto manage to tell in 100 or more. And it’s finally on Blu-Ray.
In late 2004, Imaishi was also animation director on the first episode of Re: Cutie Honey, a modern remake of the classic anime series. (It’s actually an animated remake of the live action movie). Naturally, since it’s Gainax, the show is more insane than it ever was back in the 1970’s, showing a lot more skin than before, and cranking the flair dial up to 12.
In fact, all three episodes of the Re: Cutie Honey OVA had different sub-directors in addition to Hideaki Anno, and all of Imaishi’s trademarks show up in his episode. It all comes together in a package that’s very pretty to look at.
I mean, I’ve never seen the original Cutie Honey, nor have I seen the live-action movie this OVA is based on, but it’s a fun little three-episode diversion, if you find the time. (The episodes are longer than a normal TV episode, clocking in at about 45 minutes each, I believe.)
However, earlier in 2004, Imaishi was able to make an OVA with Production I.G, and this 45-minute movie would come to define his art and animation style, as well as the kinetic and over-the-top tone of his series. The movie in question is Dead Leaves.
Since Dead Leaves is under an hour long, I feel I can go into a more detailed breakdown of the story compared to the Gurren Lagann and Panty and Stocking pieces of the retrospective. That being said, I’m pretty much going to spoil the whole plot of the movie, so if you don’t want it spoiled for you, this movie is also available on YouTube for free, so get to watching it.
The movie opens with two naked people with amnesia. We have Pandy, a girl with a red spot over her eye which makes her “look like a panda bear”, and Retro, a guy with a retro television for a head. Both wondering how they ended up where they are completely naked, they do what anyone would do in that situation: head into the nearby city to steal and cause mayhem.
After a chase scene, the two crash their stolen car, and are shuttled off to serve a life sentence on the Dead Leaves prison facility on the moon, which looks like it’s seen better days. Following an uncomfortable eating and pooping experience, the two somehow manage to figure out how to have sex in their straight-jackets, and their love-making is so righteous that it causes them to break down the door to their cell, and they somehow figure out how to undo their restraints.
This surprises the other inmates, all mutant freaks like our heroes, who ask to be freed by the renegades. Now that they’ve been busted out, the inmates plan a full-scale jailbreak. Lots of shooting and motorbike-stealing occurs, and the riot catches the attention of the prison guards 666 and 777 (pronounced Triple-6 and Triple-7).
More explosive and violent chase scenes follow, until the inmates fight their way to a train which should take them to the docking bay of the facility. Pandy and Retro start getting creeped out on how much they know about the prison despite their memories being blank. Pandy soon finds out she’s pregnant, and Retro’s the father, despite just having had sex a good 10 minutes prior.
One of the mutants, a doctor, dishes out the expository backstory: the warden of the prison used to do genetic experiments involving cloning and something called a “mutation gene cluster”, the purpose of which was to create live weaponry. Pandy and Retro find out they used to be spies or something (the truth is never fully explained), and an accidental explosion killed the warden, shot a shard of the mutation gene cluster into Pandy’s eye (which explains the spot), and the warden’s daughter came upon the scene thinking Pandy murdered the warden. Pandy and Retro escaped the facility and were put into cryo-sleep for 8 years, which is why they don’t remember anything directly, and the warden’s daughter is all grown up, wanting revenge on Pandy for the supposed murder of her father. The inmates are all a bunch of failed clones from the continued experiments, and it turns out Pandy, Retro, 666 and 777 are all the last remnants of the living weapons project.
The rest of the movie is kind of a clusterfuck, so forgive me for not going into details, but it’s just so crazy that it would be better for you to see it for yourselves than for me to describe it, because it’s pretty damn near indescribable.
Dead Leaves is pretty much the visual equivalent of having your eyeballs fucked for a good 45 minutes. It’s as kinetic as Panty and Stocking’s best-animated bits, only it never stops. It starts off crazy and just keeps going from there, to the point where I think they used up their animation budget near the end, because the last 5 minutes or so look a little less polished than the rest of the movie.
The art style very much resembles the eye-catches from Gurren Lagann (those still pictures that they show before and after a commercial break), with lots of color and heavy use of deep black shadows, with almost a scratchy sort of linework that still manages to be thick-lined. Hell, the ending credits look exactly like Gurren Lagann’s episode titles (at least, the ones during the first arc), only they’re colored instead of white-on-black.
For some viewers, I feel like Dead Leaves can be exhausting to watch, if only because it’s so fast-paced and it never really lets up with the flashes and the explosions and the quick editing and whatnot. Even I’ve watched it sometimes and I felt that way after I was done. However, other times I’ve been completely satisfied with what I just saw.
It’s definitely a funny movie, at least. The American dub does a great job with the jokes, and while I can’t remember the original Japanese dub, I’d still say it’s better for it. Everyone delivers their lines pretty well and you get a feel for the characters right away. Pandy’s more cool and collected, almost as if she doesn’t give a crap, and Retro’s absolutely balls-out insane and loud.
The point is, you’ll never see anything else like Dead Leaves. It’s easily crazier than Panty and Stocking in terms of how much crazy action they fit into each minute, and while it’s not as epic as Gurren Lagann, it’s just as over-the-top. It’s also fun to see the various ways this movie inspired both of those series later on. It was hard for me to get screen-grabs of this movie because every single frame is fucking beautiful and awesome.
Whelp, that pretty much wraps up the retrospective on Hiroyuki Imaishi’s work. I love the guy for his animation and art style, and he’s easily been my biggest influence, even before I became infatuated with Gurren Lagann, which is why I’m so excited to see where things go with his new studio, Trigger.
But how can the guy have been an inspiration to me before Gurren Lagann, which is when I really started paying attention to him? Well, that’s where I’ll leave us off: he directed the animated intro to a semi-obscure PS2 action-RPG. The sequel to the PS1 gem “Brave Fencer Musashi”, “Musashi: Samurai Legend” for the PS2 went for a much more serious and steampunk vibe than its predecessor, but you wouldn’t be able to tell that from the animated intro, which marries Imaishi’s animation direction with Tetsuya Nomura’s character designs (which I will also admit I am a fan of his style, as well), and surf rock.
Imaishi’s animation direction is so fun, it made this game seem like shit because it was never this fast or awesome during actual gameplay. Here’s looking forward to more from this guy.