Original Date: October 9, 2014
Synonymous with the Western success of his first TV anime Cowboy Bebop in the early 2000’s, Shinichiro Watanabehas become a household name for Western anime fans. Similar to the Western success as that of Hayao Miyazaki (Studio Ghibli), Ozamu Tezuka (Astro Boy) and Satoshi Kon (Paprika, Tokyo Godfathers), Watanabe has garnered a great deal of attention for mature-themed anime outside of Japan.
In 2014, he has garnered major attention with his two current shows Space Dandy and Terror in Resonance, with the former having aired on Toonami / Adult Swim with an English dub before it airs at Japan.
Watanabe’s Influence From the West
When it comes to features directed by Watanabe, automatically one can feel his influence from Western cinema and culture as his works are geared towards Western audiences rather than the homeland audience. In fact, his works that draw influences from Western culture has even caught the eye of some filmmakers of today and often cite him as an influence in their works as well.
As it said above, his influences do vary from Western and Eastern cultures. Examples of that include Space Adventure Cobra, the Dirty Harry movies and classic John Carpenter movies, which he even stated that Space Dandy was greatly influenced by. His first anime Cowboy Bebop has influences from spaghetti westerns, film noir and Hong Kong action movies with the helping of jazz and blues music. His next project in 2004 Samurai Champloo mixed in samurai (Japan’s Edo period) and hip-hop culture. Even on a recent interview on Fuji Creative for Terror in Resonance, he said the show is closest to any foreign TV show and the examples he brought up were 24 andSherlock.
According to an interview Watanabe did for Toonzone during Otakon 2013, he said: “When you’re making anime, if you get all of your inspiration from anime then your work — you can’t help but for it to be reminiscent of old anime, and it’s going to lack originality and creativity. So I try to get my inspiration from different genres to help my anime be more creative and original.”
From that statement, it is clear, while Watanabe is resonant to anime from his childhood, he doesn’t want his imaginative side to be over-indulgent of the abundant typical anime aesthetic in both past and present titles. He even manages to add his own style in one of his first anime he’s directed that based off the manga Kids on The Slope.
Watanabe’s Influence on the West
While most anime titles like Akira, Ghost in the Shell, a majority of Miyazaki and/or other Studio Ghibli movies and various works are cited as an influence to most filmmakers and artists, most of them haven’t been clear when it comes to Watanabe shows and they aren’t as commonplace as most people think they are.
One example is the Joss Whedon-created short-lived cult classic TV series Firefly. Many debates and forum discussions on how Bebop could serve as an influence on the show and tied many similarities to it and its 2005 filmSerenity from the characters to the ship and the similar situations the show has created. More evidence is from an article at Sci-Fi Mafia in 2011 where Orson Scott Card, the author of Ender’s Game praises Cowboy Bebop, saying that it’s better than any of the sci-fi movies coming at it’s time and he was actually one in a few people that compared the anime to Firefly. However, comparisons of the two shows have died down since as some even said that Outlaw Star was more of a candidate than Bebop.
Writer-director Rian Johnson for films such as Brick, the upcoming Star Wars Episode VIII, The Brothers Bloom &Looper, has stated in one of his Reddit AMA he posted during the release of Looper and on his website forum thatCowboy Bebop serve as an influence in Brick with its visuals and the film has noir moments similar to it. He is a big fan of the show as well, citing his favorite episode of the series is Pierrot Le Fou. Johnson is curious on how a live action movie version of the show will do.
Creators of fan-favorite & critically acclaimed Nickelodeon animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender & the current follow-up The Legend of Korra, Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Koneitzko have stated that the series is heavily influenced by anime. Many of their examples include the usual suspects such as Studio Ghibli, Production I.G., and Studio 4°C works and Watanabe’s material. Koneitzko stated that his most beloved fight scenes from any Watanabe series is in Cowboy Bebop in the first episode “Asteroid Blues” where Spike faces off his bounty Asimov. Another example of inspiration is in the duel between Mugen and Sara in Samurai Champloo episode 21 “Elegy of Entrapment (Verse 2)”. The character Jet is an example of having Watanabe influence with the character design and mannerisms of Mugen of Samurai Champloo and even sharing the same first name as Jet Black, the secondary protagonist in Cowboy Bebop.
Conversational comic strip writer and creator of The Boondocks, Aaron McGruder has cited that shows Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo as an inspiration for the majority of the animated series’ fight scenes and the first season’s opening title sequence. There has been little references of Watanabe in some of the episodes such as in Season 1, Episode 3 “Guess Ho’s Coming to Dinner”, a Japanese business person happens to resemble Jin, one of the male leads in Champloo. An additional example is in Season 3, Episode 3 “The Red Ball”, where the episode take cues of Episode 23 of Samurai Champloo called “Baseball Blues” only instead of baseball, kickball is the main sport du jour with a different change that it’s the Americans vs the Chinese.
Watanabe’s Continuing Influence
There is no doubt that somewhere in the world somebody is watching either one of his shows and can be inspired to create of their own with their own twist of events and tricks. Watanabe has left a mark as being one of the people in anime that western fans can get insight on and even in his native home, his presence is still noted in other anime he’s involved in. An example of that is being the music producer for Michiko and Hatchin and Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine. Both are which directed by Sayo Yamamoto, a frequent collaborator of Watanabe in his past shows.
There are no signs on Watanabe slowing down as the years go by as he might even get a successor to carry out his influence and pass it down for future generations of artists to come and with that said the next person making their way in media could have a major influence of him or if there could already be someone like that but most of us wouldn’t even know it yet until we see what they got.
Additional notes: 8/18/2016 – Everything about this post still stands today. I still think Watanabe is one of the most influential people in anime and one of my influences when it comes to storytelling in general. I think he’s one of the few people that creates gateway anime that some outsider can easily get into and seeing a few key people in western culture influenced by his works and has some elements of his style in there has me more intrigued once looking this up.
Who knows what other person is influenced by him? Could be the next rising filmmaker or maybe even someone that had it all along?
I’m MAK2.0 aka The Blue Hybrid, bringing all the elements in one format.