Kawajiri-san was, and is, many things. He was (and continues to be) a storyboard artist and a damn fine animator to say the least. He apparently likes hard-boiled science fiction. He seems to like the color blue in lots of his earlier work. He digs gory violence. He also digs a nice dose of boobage. Overall, there’s a whole lot to love about Yoshiaki Kawajiri and his contributions to anime at large, from his founding of Madhouse with other Mushi Pro veterans like Rintaro to the creation of acclaimed anime hits like the ubiquitous Ninja Scroll and Lensman. As this blogger gathers y’all around his comical campfire, let’s sit down and, more importantly, break it down about why we all love Yoshiaki Kawajiri!
1) Madhouse’s Visual Appeal: Kawajiri’s work with Madhouse is nothing short of fantastic. The question however is in what way? Does Kawajiri’s body of work exude a subtle critique of life and society in his storytelling? Does he ooze oodles and oodles of character development for us to swallow up? Is his selected soundtrack akin to Joe Hisaishi’s work with Studio Ghibli? Well, to answer all of that: No, no and HELL NO!! Kawajiri’s not about any of that stuff AT ALL (at least to me). He’s not here to tug at your heart strings nor is he here to stir your mind’s eye about the platitudes of life. In many ways, it’s all visual to us, and Kawajiri does that in the best way, thanks to all the hard working folks at his preferred studio, Madhouse. His direction and knack for fluid animation showcases that he’s here to please with lots of action, but trust us, it’s not the choppy Toei kind of action you find on TV. With his body of work in OVAs and films, Kawajiri is out to give you eye-sex in the best possible way. Look how fluid Taki’s movement is in Wicked City, or how well the camera pans in and out in Demon City Shinjuku. What about his liberal use of blue to illustrate for us the ruins of Shinjuku, or the nightscapes of a futuristic Tokyo overrun with cybernetic criminals? Have you seen how massive and menacing Genma is in Ninja Scroll, or the ferocity of the demons you’d find in Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust? If you have, then it’s easy to see why many of the Kawajiri faithful flock to his work like crackheads to…err, crack. Fluid, fast, full-bodied and sumptuous, Kawajiri’s visual appeal is at the heart of what makes him and Madhouse a beast to reckon with.
2. The Kick-ass Musical Vibe: For the many otaku that will moan about Kawajiri’s lack of music choices, I would probably tell you to stuff it. That 80s-90s vibe that seems to never go away from OVAs yet still seems to help paint an even livelier picture on your screen is all green for me! Cyber City OEDO seems to be the easy candidate for me to name since it features all kinds of synth like sounds that seem straight out of the 80s, but works damn well in a 90s OVA. Wicked City’s soundtrack paints eerie images all around us as we see agents from the Black World wreck havoc in ours, while Ninja Scroll takes a predictable yet commendable approach to jidai-geki horn scores as the Devils of Kimon roam across the rain towards Shimoda village. It’s not Hisaishi, and it certainly doesn’t have to be. Kawajiri’s music is fitting, if not appealing, for the kind of animation he cranks out time and time again.
3. Action Action Action!!!: It’s not hard for us to say that us guys like our meat and potatoes, but when Kawajiri dishes ‘em out, he does so with four gallons of bullets and thirty buckets of blood! Action has always been the name of his game, and he deals them in spades here folks. You either see laser guns blazing, missiles flying, swords or other weapons being hurled around to tear humans apart, and it all works! His knack for capturing anything that moves fast with a flesh rendering impact at the end of it is simply spellbinding. Maybe he’s watched one too many American action movies, but whatever the hell he was watching, him and Madhouse got all that action down PAT . In addition, he toys with different themes of action too! Demon City Shinjuku and Ninja Scroll root themselves in Japanese style sword-swinging action, with the latter being much more fast paced. Wicked City, Midnight Eye Goku and Cyber City OEDO gives us gritty, brooding, silver-plated cyber mayhem (all of his cybernetic implements are very shiny and awesome). Lensman is just, well, the sci-fi stuff but with a LOT more gunwork and running. LOTS of RUNNING!! Overall, whether it’s sci-fi gunfights or a swordsman ripping through Toyotomi ninjas, Kawajiri is simply a MAN of ACTION, and it shows!
4. Everything has a “tinge” of the Supernatural: In Kawajiri’s world, nothing is really what it seems. From a towering ninja with stone skin to a lingerie-clad beauty with shark’s teeth in her vagina, Kawajiri never EVER settles for the ordinary Maybe it’s all the Hideyuki Kikuchi books he’s been reading all the time on the toilet, or maybe he got his butt reamed by a Buichi Terasawa-esque woman who resembles a motorcycle, but whatever he gets off on, it somehow splatters onto your screen in such an outlandish way that you’re BOUND to remember it. The sheer fantasy and ferocity of his villains, like the Eight Devils of Kimon, or the various creatures that populate Wicked City and Demon City Shinjuku are evidence of this as well, which helps to draw out inevitable yet epic encounters with our would-be heroes towards the end. Nothing is ever ordinary with Kawajiri’s work, and that’s even a given for his seemingly standard looking heroes, but if it was, would it still be just as cool? I think NOT!
5. It’s for “MATURE AUDIENCES”: It’s probably the one thing that sticks out about his work that few of us would ever openly claim, but it’s very VERY clear that Kawajiri-san has meant his work to be of a mature nature. His depiction of violence and the ferocity of it may be one thing, but the nudity and the sex? Oh yeah, it ain’t for your average 5 year old. Wicked City depicts sex unabashedly, either as a weapon or as a way for our protagonists to communicate their love to each other. Ninja Scroll illustrates Kagero’s despair as a woman, and her subtle liberation in Jubei’s arms. Midnight Eye Goku has got naked babes with motorcycle parts on them or peacock tails glued to their asses. Even Kawajri’s latest romp Highlander: The Search for Vengeance has a wee bit of it. It ain’t gonna be kids anime from Kawajiri-san and for all of us involved, that’s why we come by. It’s adults only. Kiddie otaku fans need not apply.
So there you have it, the 5 Reason why we ALL LOVE Yoshiaki Kawajiri. He’s got a nice body of work that’s not only action-packed and visually appealing, but it’s a body of work full of superhuman muscle flexing, ferocious violence and horror, kicking music and an ‘adults only’ flavor that only the meat-eating, scum-loving anime faithful like myself would ever dig. Now stop reading this and go watch some of his stuff today!!