Founded by Mitsuhisa Ishikawa and Takayuki Goto in 1987, IG Tatsunoko immediately found a name for itself in the Japanese industry. They worked on numerous projects in their early years and struck gold with the Patlabor series. Patlabor: The Movie and eventually, Patlabor 2: The Movie became very successful works and earned the upcoming company much praise. Since their departure from Tatsunoko in 1993, things have been going smoothly for the company and with the founding of their first subsidiary studio Xebec; things couldn’t have looked any brighter. But before IG could bask in its small victory, they would team up with Mamoru Oshii once again to produce something that would propel Production I.G to massive acclaim and world recognition; Ghost in the Shell.
Ghost in the Shell is set in the futuristic world of 2029 where cyborg technology was readily available and global networks of information enveloped world. The film follows the members of Section 9 and their second in command, Major Motoko Kusanagi, as they try to capture The Puppet Master, an elusive hacker. The puppet master is able to control the memories and behaviours of people by hacking directly into their brains, in a method dubbed as ghost hacking. Kusanagi and her team investigate incidents surrounding the unknown hacker, but as the Major unravels the identity and comes face to face with the hacker, the truth is revealed and surpasses all comprehension.
Directed by Oshii, the Ghost in the Shell film was based on the original manga by Masamune Shirow. The production staff also composed of: former HEADGEAR Kazunori Ito- who wrote the script, Kenji Kawai- who composed the soundtrack and character design by Hiroyuki Okiura. Ghost in the Shell was finally released onto the masses in Japanese cinemas on November 18th, 1995. It was also Production I.G’s first international theatrical release. The film was distributed by Palm Pictures and reached North American cinemas on February 2nd 1996. While Ghost in the Shell fared well in Japan, it became a cult classic overseas, earning near universal praise from critics, a domestic box office of $515,905 and reaching #1 on the American Billboard Video Chart. The film earned praise for its compelling story, large inspiring cyberpunk world, surreal soundtrack and rich visuals. As with Mamoru Oshii’s previous projects, the film exerts philosophical ideals about the nature of intelligence and being human.
An image from the 1995 Ghost in the Shell Film. This image depicts protagonist Motoko Kusanagi with the film's logo.
Image source: Alualuna
Following the massive success of Ghost in the Shell, Production IG began expanding into newer areas. They created a Ghost in the Shell game for the original PlayStation in 1997 which gain favourable reviews, but the most significant aspect of the game was its production. Throughout the anime industry, hand drawn cells were the only method but as more technology became available, the opportunity of using digital techniques increased. The Ghost in the Shell film used digital overlaying techniques, though the layers themselves were all hand drawn. The production of the 1997 game had IG introduce ground breaking technology into the industry. Rather than using cell drawings for the animated sequences, it was all completed using a full digital colouring technique.
1997 remained to be a busy for Production I.G, as their success with Ghost in the Shell, earned more interesting projects. One of which was a commercial for Murphy's Brewery, an Irish company, to advertise their Irish Stout. British AD agency Nexus Productions asked Production I.G for a favour to produce this advert, seeing that the Ghost in the Shell film just released in the UK. Not only did they agree, but the creative team behind the 60 second commercial was composed of Hiroyuki Kitakubo, Kazuchika and Hiromasa Ogura- all of whom are credited for popular works. They would also go on to produce another commercial, this time for Samsung’s home appliances.
The year also saw a long partnership between Namco and Production I.G, with IG creating the opening anime sequence for Tales of Destiny. This partnership has lasted up to this very day, with IG creating every single opening sequence of each entry into the game franchise. The latest entry into the Tales Franchise is Tales of Xillia 2 which released to Japanese PlayStation 3 owners in November last year.
The Tales of. Series has been running for over 18 years and sold over 13 million copies across multiple platforms.
Image source: PixelHunt
1997 also saw the creation of Production I.G’s second subsidiary studio, Bee Train Animation. Bee Train was founded by Koichi Mashimo, a former director at Ishikawa’s first animation studio, Tatsunoko Productions and Kenji Horikawa, who would eventually establish P.A. Works in 2000. Bee Train’s projects involved adaptations of popular Japanese video game franchises, such as Wild Arms. They would create their own series called Noir in 2001, the first in the ‘girls with guns’ trilogy. But their most popular work would be the anime adaptations of the .hack series, which has become a revered multimedia franchise.
Another original project of BeeTrain is Madlax. The method Mashimo uses to brainstorm ideas involved alcohol.
Image source: Avistaz
Production I.G were also credited for producing two films in 1997, both based on Gainax’s Neon Genesis Evangelion anime series. Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death & Rebirth and The End of Evangelion were both films with collaborations between IG and Gainax, which were directly related to each other and the TV series, as well as both releasing within months of each other.
Production I.G decided to broaden its exposure to the international market due to the success of Ghost in the Shell by opening up their first international branch. The company launched the Los Angeles-based subsidiary in March 1997, which would go on to help produce IGPX in 2005. For the remainder of the 90s, Production I.G focused on creating digital animated pieces for video games. They honed their digital composition skills and talents, and were the lead animation producers for: Tekken 3, Ace Combat 3 – Electrosphere, Wild Arms 2nd Ignition, Valkyrie Profile and Tales of Phantasia. IG was also credited for creating the 1998 Emotion Logo used in Bandai Visual’s home releases.
The End of Evangelion was a massive commercial success, earning over 1.4 Billion yen before the year ended.
Image source: Wallz.eu
The turn of the millennium saw three important projects for Production I.G. The first was OVA series FLCL, which was cooperatively produced with Gainax. The series had a run of 6 episodes from April 2000 until March the following year and the show enjoyed massive success in North American audiences mostly due to it being aired on Cartoon Network, introducing a new generation into anime. Named Furi Kuri in Japan, the collaborative OVA features the story of an ordinary boy named Naota who is bored of his mundane life. Though one day, he is visited by a strange women named Haruko who claims she is an alien, which livens Naoto’s life to the extreme.
The second project was Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade which released in Japan on June 3rd, 2000. The film was an adaptation of Mamoru Oshii’s Kerberos Saga- which started in 1986. It was the third film in the franchise but the first to be animated. Despite Production I.G’s advancements in digital composition, the entire film was created from hand drawn cells. It was also the last feature film to only use cell animation. The film is set in an alternate history in Japan, 1950 where Germany occupied the country. A member of the Panzer Corps is sentenced for not following an order to kill a suicide bomber, but is then approached by the bomber’s sister and form a relationship. The film itself is written by Oshii but directed by Hiroyuki Okiura, a key animator that worked on Patlabor and Akira.
The left image shows the iconic armour worn in the Jin-Roh film, known as Protect Gear. The right image shows the iconic yellow Vespa scooter that Haruko rides around in FLCL. Both are iconic in the anime industry and are replicated many times in cosplay
Image sources: Dakkadakka, Modern Vespa
The final and most important project of 2000 was Blood: The Last Vampire. President Mitsuhisa Ishikawa himself wanted a new original concept to work with rather than adapting readily available media. To brainstorm ideas for the new project, Ishikawa turned to the students of Mamoru Oshii’s filmmaking lectures. One of the submitters was Kenji Kamiyama, a background artist for Akira and Kiki’s Delivery Service. Kamiyama would join Oshii’s team at Production I.G and would become a director for one particular series in 2002.
The film is set in 1966, where a young girl named Saya is armed with a Japanese sword, tasked to hunt down Vampires. On one of her missions, she is sent by a mysterious organisation to hunt them down in an American air force base, during the heat of the Vietnam War. There, she poses as a schoolgirl and plans to rid of the blood sucking menace.
One of the most important aspects of the film was that it was the first film to utilise digital computer generated animation. The film was first drawn using traditional cells and would also use computers that would ink, colour and animate the film. This was truly innovative for the anime industry, not only being one of the first to incorporate digital techniques, but that Production I.G found a way to seamlessly use cutting edge digital technology in a large scope. It was also I.G’s first film to successfully create a blend of 2D animation and 3D models, where even Director James Cameron describes it as the "future of digital animation". This eventually paved way for other animation studios to effectively use digitising techniques and compositions to create more detailed anime projects. It was also the first film predominantly in English with a Japanese subtitle track. This helped the film stay true to its setting and adapt to overseas markets more easily.
Blood: The Last Vampire would spawn two anime series: Blood + and Blood C, a manga sequel, a light novel series, video game and a live action movie of the same name.
Image source: Horrophile
The film launched internationally on July 29, 2000 and in Japan on November 18 the same year. It received very high praise for the stunning animation as well as its action oriented sequences. There were criticisms of the film’s length, only running at 50 minutes, and the film’s weak conclusion. Not only has the film garnered acclaim but has also claimed many accolades around the world. It also caught the eye of one particular Hollywood director, Quentin Tarantino.
A year following the international release of Blood: The Last Vampire, Director Quentin Tarantino showed up at Production I.G’s main studio in Kokubunji, Tokyo. Tarantino showed up uninvited and raised many suspicions amongst the staff members of I.G, but he had a purpose. Tarantino had seen both Ghost in the Shell and Blood: The Last Vampire and had admired their work on it. His agenda with the studio was that he wanted to see some of I.G’s acclaimed animation in his upcoming film, Kill Bill. Ishikawa met with Tarantino and discussed the plans to create an animated sequence for his film. Initially Mitsuhisa Ishikawa refused his request due to the company’s busy schedule. In an interview with Anime Pulse, Ishikawa describes Tarantino’s actions; “Apparently in Tarantino’s vocabulary there isn’t the word that ‘no means no.’ So time after time he sends me the first draft the second draft, the third draft for the scenarios for Kill Bill, and each time they are getting more interesting.” Ishikawa eventually gave in and broke the news to his studio that they would be producing more work.
Production I.G eventually completed the 7 minute animated sequence to Quentin Tarantino’s 2003 film, Kill Bill Volume 1. Tarantino wasn’t the only director that was interested in IG’s animated works. The Wachowskis brothers were heavily fascinated with Ghost in the Shell, to a point where their influenced film could be called its live action counterpart. Joel Silver, who was producer on the films, noted that The Wachowskis’ intentions after watching the film was "We wanna do that for real.” The Matrix, which was released in 1999, was the first in the trilogy of a Cyberpunk Dystopia where Earth is dominated by sentient machines. The Matrix became an instant blockbuster hit and even became an icon in the Hollywood industry.
Production I.G completed the animation sequence to Tarantino's request. It was heavily stylised to match the film's theme and direction. An extended and uncut version of the sequence was released in Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair.
Image Source: AvClub
As Production I.G’s name and animation projects began to grew, so did its company’s corporate side. In 1998, the company incorporated to become Production I.G Inc. In 2000, they merged with production company ING, a company that was also founded by Mitsuhisa Ishikawa. 2002 saw the first Ghost in the Shell related project since the original film, 7 years prior. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is once again based around Masamune Shirow manga but unlike the original film, but it would follow the manga more closely. Stand Alone Complex was produced into its own full 26 episode anime but it had a major shift in the production team. Mamoru Oshii was not directing or writing this series instead his student Kenji Kamiyama was going to helm the series. The series also saw legendary composer Yoko Kanno (Cowboy Bebop, Macross series) scoring the soundtrack and music for the anime.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is set in 2030 and follows the members of Public Security Section 9 as they investigate the elite hacker and corporate terrorist, known as The Laughing Man. The members must unravel the secret behind The Laughing Man’s identity as well as uncovering the secrets of the corporate world that dominate cyber technology. The series would be set in a separate timeline from the anime and the original manga.
Released on October 1st, 2002 Stand Alone Complex received positive reception from critics and fans of the original film alike. The series had high expectations to live up to, and many of them were fulfilled. Many praised the high quality animation that was expected with Production I.G’s work as well as Kanno’s musical score. The world of Stand Alone Complex was lauded as well with the technology being believably futuristic. The series was constantly compared to the original film and how the depth of the series did not match up. Despite some divided opinions, Stand Alone Complex won the Excellence Prize in Animation at the 2002 Japan Media Arts Festival.
Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex had received a massive 800 million yen investment for the production of the series. This would be surpassed by production budget for Katsuhiro Otomo's 2004 film, Steamboy, which had an estimated budget of 2.4 billion yen.
Image source: artefactoblog
As yet another acclaimed title is added to Production I.G’s list, their name has become synonymous with high quality animation. With a large driving force in digital advancements, the renowned studio began to experiment new creative thoughts and ideas.
Join us next week for the third and final part.
Various Articles from NewType Magazine
Brendon is a writer and reviewer for GoBoiano. He is an avid video gamer, anime viewer, and possesses an interest in StarCraft II - not that he is any good at it. He also writes articles for Otaku Tale and has a personal blog full of mundane shenanigans.
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