His Career Defined a Generation...

on Thursday, March 29, 2012.

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Recently, the anime community was saddened to hear of the passing of legendary director, Noboru Ishiguro. If you've read my previous article on YAS or posts on the Mech Aficionado FaceBook page, you're already aware that much of my writing focuses on the accomplishments of  individuals who have in some way, shaped the animation industry in Japan. This however, is a different type of article for me, since it's really a narrative of events and sharing of memories from a few of us, as we look back at a man whose dedication to his work was responsible for some of the earliest landmark series that introduced countless Western fans to anime.

I'd only met Mr. Ishiguro once, but it was that experience which prompted me to focus less on writing about his work and more about the approachability and sincere generosity of this individual who loved to share his life's work with anyone he met. For this reason, I’ve asked some good friends to share some of their experiences about this industry legend as well. Walter Amos, writer and panelist extraodinaire, who over the years developed a unique friendship with Mr. Ishiguro and Amy Howard Wilson, the actress who voiced the role of Nova in Star Blazers, the American adaptation of one of Ishiguro's most iconic directorial works, Space Battleship Yamato. If you’ve never met Mr. Ishiguro, then hopefully the following will give you an idea why fans worldwide cherish the memories he left behind.

A Generation Defined By His Works

For those not familiar with Mr. Ishiguro's impact in the animation community, Noboru Ishiguro was one of the founding members of the animation industry in Japan. He worked in various industry capacities including directing, storyboarding, producing and scriptwriting on such iconic series like Space Cruiser Yamato (Star Blazers), Super Dimensional Fortress Macross (1st Season of Robotech), Orguss and Megazone 23 (the anime that inspired the Matrix). Through his endeavors, he pretty much help define the "Space Opera" anime genre.

His role as director for Yamato and Macross helped make these productions the legendary sagas they are today. The success and popularity of these series in Japan, not only set new standards in the industry, but also proved essential to the rise of early 80's anime fandom in the West. In 1976 he set up Artland Studios from which he oversaw various projects like Bubblegum Crash, Mushi-shi, Tytania, and perhaps his crown jewel, Legend of the Galactic Heroes.

 

MacrossDYRL 

As dedicated as Mr. Ishiguro was to his career, he was equally so to his fans. For as many industry personalities as I've met over the last 20 years, I can only think of a few who enjoyed interacting with the attendees at conventions as much as Mr. Ishiguro. Seeing this first hand was something I’ll never forget and upon news of his passing, there were a series of events in particular that had a few of us reminiscing about an amazing convention in Atlanta five years ago...

Wendy and I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Ishiguro at AWA in 2007. This anime convention held in Atlanta has been a favorite destination of ours since 2000 and holds sentimental value to us as well. Not only is it an amazing con, but it's also where we reunite with great friends from around the world once a year. Ironically, most of us were brought together due to our love of the Yamato series, which made AWA the perfect venue to meet this incredible individual. I still remember his excitement when Walter had e-mailed several of us with the news that he had help secure Ishiguro's appearance at AWA that year. It's his memories leading up to this serendipitous event that I wanted to start off with...

Walter Amos on how he first met Mr. Ishiguro and the events leading to AWA in 07:

Sketch and autograph from Mr. Ishiguro to Walter 1995 AX

"Mr. Ishiguro had over the last decade and a half been a guest at a number of American anime conventions. I met him at what I believe to be his first American con appearance, Anime Expo 1995. The year before I had contributed a lengthy article to Antarctic Press' Mangazine(issue 29), describing my impressions of (and largely guessed synopsis of) the second series of the science fiction anime Legend of the Galactic Heroes (which Ishiguro directed). Since Ishiguro had also directed the series that got me interested in anime in the first place, Space Battleship Yamato (in its American adaptation, Star Blazers), I was eager to speak to him and wanted to give him a copy of the Mangazine issue with my review in it. I managed to speak with him and his translator in a lobby annex of the convention space and after giving him the magazine, he took a moment to draw me a signed sketch of the Yamato.

His personable nature was evident to all the fans in attendance at his panels, where he was always tickled that Americans were interested in his work and always seemed happy to meet fans and answer questions. I imposed upon him again at Anime Expo 1999, the year which was the 20th anniversary of the first broadcast of Star Blazers, and the 25th of the first Japanese broadcast of Yamato, to join a panel I was presenting on Star Blazers along with voice cast members Amy Howard-Wilson ("Nova") and Ken Meseroll ("Derek Wildstar", in his first convention appearance). Despite not being aware of this panel beforehand he was happy to come by and discuss the show and answer questions.

At the following convention, Anime Expo 2000, he was in attendance once again at the annual Galactic Heroes panel with series producer Yukio Kikukawa and although he didn't seem to answer many of the questions from the dais, he did seem to be intently writing something while up on the stage.

What it was became evident afterward, when the attendees of the panel (including some in costume from the show) got together for a photo, and Mr. Ishiguro handed me a small slip of note paper with what he had been writing: a small sketch of me! Of course I was astounded and incredibly honored, and this sketch has become my avatar icon on a number of chat forums.

Mr. Ishiguro's sketch of Walter Amos

The following year was monumental for Mr. Ishiguro and his animation studio, Artland, which suffered a major fire. Mr. Ishiguro himself had been asleep in an upstairs office and had to be rescued by fire fighters. As a result he wasn't able to make it to the opening ceremonies of AX 2001, but sent a greeting video which quickly became legendary. On the recording he explained the circumstances of the fire, and how friends in other Tokyo area animation studios donated animation tables and supplies to help Artland get back on its feet.

But, knowing his explanation in his native Japanese was not understood by most of the audience, he paused and held up a hand written sign saying "TRANSLATE"! The AX translator took a moment to explain what he had said, after the uproarious laughter of the audience died down. When Mr. Ishiguro made his appearance on the following day of the convention, fan-made "TRANSLATE" signs became the running gag of that convention. Even after suffering through a significant personal and business setback, this gracious gentleman managed to supply good nature and humor to several thousand anime fans.

Several years later, in 2007, I managed by a series of unexpected accidents to cause Mr. Ishiguro to be a guest at Anime Weekend Atlanta. Convention emcee Dave Merrill had proposed working on a "studio focus" panel discussion of a particular anime studio. I was willing, but said that usually such panels tend to focus on either Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli, or the popular Studio GAINAX. I proposed a look at a less well known studio and suggested Ishiguro's Studio Artland.  We went ahead with this, but soon realized that I had little save knowledge of a few specific shows the studio had produced.

At Anime Expo that year I inquired of Takayuki Karahashi, Mr. Ishiguro's translator, whether he could inquire if the studio had any sort of information or promotional materials which might help me get some more information. A few weeks later Taka wrote back saying that Mr. Ishiguro didn't think he had anything that might be of use, but inquired instead whether the convention would want Mr. Ishiguro to come in person as a guest. After recovering from the shock of this unexpected offer, I relayed it to Dave Merrill, who sent it to the convention staff saying that they should move on it "with all deliberate speed and power!" Mr. Ishiguro was soon added as a last minute Guest of Honor to AWA 2007, which led to some of my fondest memories of his personal generosity and affability."

-Walter Amos

Roman Album cover

AWA 2007

We showed up Friday morning and among the friends we met with, there were already discussions about the dinner outing the prior night and plans for other events later that weekend. But most notably, there was considerable anticipation for the upcoming panels regarding Mr. Ishiguro’s career.  AWA had set up several panels that gave him the opportunity to discuss the various series he worked on over his lengthy career. The first of which was his panel on Space Battleship Yamato.

Tim Eldred hosted this incredibly infomative panel where Mr. Ishiguro, via his translator, covered the production aspects of his years storyboarding and directing for the iconic series. He also gave fans a glimpse of the struggles the studios faced in weekly timelines for finishing episodes as well as his gridlocks with series' producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki (1934-2010) over keys scenes and other variables during it's production. Over the course of the panel, you were really given an insight as to why Yamato and other series he worked on, stood out from their counterparts of the day.

Another great aspect of that panel was having Amy Howard Wilson in the audience. Never one to miss any Yamato panel, Amy to my knowledge, was only one of two of the original Star Blazers cast to actually meet Mr. Ishiguro. The other was actor, Ken Meseroll (Derek Wildstar) during an Anime Expo panel several years earlier.

Mr. Ishiguro shared some incredible history with the attendees, which could merit an article in and of itself. The most interesting of these was the care taken in preserving much of the original IJN Yamato design, while removing any elements or themes that could be deemed as representative or supportive of the formal Imperial Japanese Military of WWII. Given the age of some of the people involved in the series' creation, several of which were old enough to remember the pride Yamato represented to Japan during the war, it really was a delicate process in creating the proper balance for the overall production of this timeless saga.

He also played footage from the Yamato series and Arrivederci Yamato, while giving commentary on what factors shaped those famous scenes. The panel concluded with Mr. Ishiguro demonstrating the immortal Yamato Crew's/Star Force salute, to the audience's delight

Mr. Ishiguro demonstrates the famous Yamato Crew salute

As an added bonus, the very talented and creative pair of Yamato fans/cosplayers Zelda Ravenel and Sarah Myer managed to surprise Mr. Ishiguro with a photo op with the two dressed as Kodai/Derek and Shima/Venture. It was the perfect way to wrap up this incredibly memorable  panel.

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Amy Howard Wilson reflects on the lighter side of Mr. Ishiguro

"Dave and I first met Mr. Ishiguro at Anime Expo 1999. Ken Meseroll was also there and it was the first time I'd seen him since 1979 when we did the show. Sadly, we really didn't have time to sit and gab with Mr. Ishiguro. We were very glad when we found out in 2007 that he would also be a guest at AWA. This time, we actually had a chance to get to know him, and after a lovely supper that Saturday evening, we strolled back to the convention center singing "You Are My Sunshine", together with his awesome accompaniment on the ukulele! >^_^<."

-Amy Howard Wilson

Celebrating Days of Old

I can only assume that what I'm about to describe was noticeable at most conventions Mr. Ishiguro attended, but there really was a unique atmosphere about the con that year, especially among the older crowd...

For any of the "newer generation" of fans reading this; the years that Mr. Ishiguro's directorial works were adapted for American audiences, became the defining era of the early organized fan movement in the West. Shows like Star Blazers and Robotech changed the way American audiences looked at animation and fans were constantly on the lookout for any new information to be released via magazine articles and fanzines about the current status of anime in Japan. During that time, people who had established residency in Japan were helping bridge the information gap between East and West with their communications and fans that were no longer satisfied with only "adaptations" of their favorite animes were finding ways to translate and import them to the West. Fan clubs and other groups would eventually start up small conventions for anyone curious about Japanese animation and the rest as they say is history.

For many of us, it was an exciting and entertaining era of our youth. When you consider the history not only of the industry, but of the fans as well and realize that during this particular weekend in Atlanta, one of the primary contributors to that portion of our earliest days of fandom was sharing his life’s experiences and just "hanging out" with everyone was, to simply put it… pretty awesome.

Sharing his life's work with others

The last large panel of Mr. Ishiguro’s accomplishments was on Saturday evening and was an overview of his career, this time hosted by both Tim and Walter along with Taka, Mr.Ishiguro's translator, with much of the dialogue revolving around Macross, Orguss and Galactic Heroes.

The panel started with an AMV that Walter had put together, showcasing many of Mr. Ishiguro's work, and setting the stage for discussing his career over the last five decades. Of the memories he shared, some of the most fascinating were of the earliest days of working with the "then" new talent like Shoji Kawamori and Haruhiko Mikimoto, when recruiting designers for the Macross saga.

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After the panel, he had assistants hand out original production cels from his studio to the attendees. He was known for doing this at his events and even though I’d heard about this from friends who had attended previous conventions, it was quite a different experience to see it firsthand. This was but one of several examples of the selfless acts Mr. Ishiguro displayed towards attendees of the con. Another example of his generosity would be shared later that evening. During a gathering of friends at the con's Green Room, Walter displayed an item  that not only showed Ishiguro’s generosity, but his incredible sincerity when selecting this gift.

Bruinhilde

As Walter mentioned, he and Mr. Ishiguro had run into each other at previous cons over the years. As such, Mr. Ishiguro was well aware of Walter’s interest in the Galactic Heroes saga and upon arriving in Atlanta, presented Walter with one of the only remaining original production cels and background of the Brunhild, the Imperial Flagship of Reinhard von Lohengramm, which by the way, is Walter’s favorite character from that series.

It’s worth noting that as Walter pointed out, Mr. Ishiguro’s prior studio had burned down a few years earlier, which meant the only remaining cels from that series were either in private collections, second hand market vendors, or Ishiguro’s personal archives. Where most people see dollar signs when dealing with original production art, Mr. Ishiguro saw it as a way to share a portion of his life’s endeavors with people he knew would truly appreciate it.

Walter recalls the rest of that visit and the last time he saw Ishiguro

“He came to the convention with several large books of animation cels, many with painted backgrounds, from the Artland archive, to simply give away to attendees at his panel talk. How many guests do that at conventions? And perhaps my best memory of all was taking him and Taka to the Italian restaurant across the street from the convention center with a large group of fans and friends, including Helen McCarthy (another Guest of Honor, author of The Art of Osamu Tezuka), the folks from the Anime World Order podcast, and a number of other old friends and fans.                

As we walked, Mr. Ishiguro strummed Taka's omnipresent ukulele, playing the Yamato theme, with a number of us fans singing along. The last time I got to meet the man was in December 2010, at his studio Artland in            Tokyo. I had traveled to Japan with Tim Eldred (proprietor of starblazers.com) for the premiere of the live action Space Battleship Yamato movie. Before going, another old friend from Anime Expo now living in Tokyo had suggested I contact Mr. Ishiguro and see whether it might be possible to visit his studio.

I hadn't thought of this myself, but was pleased when Taka relayed the news that Mr. Ishiguro would be happy to have me visit. Once again, on short notice, this incredibly kind gentleman was able to take some time from his work to show me and another friend living in Japan, Ardith Carlton (who fortunately spoke fluent Japanese) around the animation studio where so many shows we enjoyed had come to life. (for the full story of this visit, please see my article at http://www.starblazers.com/html.php?page_id=548) Needless to say, this visit made this Japan tour a trip of a lifetime for me, as it would for any anime fan.

Little could I know at the time that this would be the last time I'd have a chance to see the man. He was still working on various projects and even while in the hospital talked about more works he wished to make. He had been scheduled to be a Guest of Honor at yet another American anime con just a few months from now, at North Carolina's Animazement, to meet another new group of American fans of his work.

I feel so lucky to have had such a chance to get to know a creator of so many of the shows which have been such an influence on my life and the lives of many others. American anime fandom would not be what it is today without the passion stirred in fans who watched his work. While anime will continue in the future and there will be many more conventions and interactions with popular creators, I find it hard to imagine anyone else being so affable and just plain down to earth as the kind and incredibly talented Noboru Ishiguro.”

-Walter Amos

Conclusion

As for the moment I'll always remember from that con... I was fortunate enough to have conversed with Mr. Ishiguro a few times during the the convention and have some memorabilia signed. But really it was one conversation that stood out, giving me an insight regarding the simple truth behind his incredible success in the industry.

In that discussion, I was curious to know his thoughts and observations on directing over the years. To sum up that conversation; he proceeded to tell me a story, via his translator of one of his earliest experiences while studying to be a director and how difficult the final scene of this particular project would be to film. He explained some of the challenges in filming the scene in question, as well as the pressure he was getting to alter the ending all together. Refusing to remove the scene, he explored other avenues and finally figured a way to film it, without losing the integrity of the original idea.

He emphasized that when you are creating something, stay true to your vision. You always have options, even when other factors like time, money or resources go against you. It's your story, tell it the way you want others to see it. 

When looking back at his career, interaction with fans and his true passion for animation, ultimately that’s how he lived his life. He never compromised his vision and anyone who enjoyed his work or had the opportunity of meeting him, benefitted from that same integrity. 

That said, I can think of several gatherings at AWA this year, where glasses will be lifted high in a toast to honor Mr. Ishiguro and the legacy he left behind. This will most likely be the case for other conventions he frequented as well. It's safe to say, regardless of the venue, the sentiment will be the same …Thank you for the memories.

Rest in Peace, Ishiguro-san, you’ll truly be missed.

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