Imaishi refuses to make ‘normal’ anime. Because of that, we’ve seen a split between TRIGGER this season; two shows came out at the same time, both being completely different in every aspect. Indeed, you’d be hard pressed to find a person who liked both (some would say even one or the other). And I don’t think people realize how big of a deal this is.
The first time two TRIGGER productions have touched was in March of 2013 with Inferno Cop, the studio’s first work, ending the 18th and Little Witch Academia hitting theaters little over two weeks prior on the 2nd. The two barely touched, primarily because Imaishi and co. had just broken from GAINAX, TRIGGER still was a small studio and not capable of output equal to their passion. The second and only other time this would happen was under similar circumstances 2 years later in July of 2015 when the sequel to Little Witch was released. Spiritual successor to the aflame officer of justice, Ninja Slayer, was ‘airing’ on the net at the time, the same way Inferno Cop had, only now the episodes had been extended from three minutes to fifteen, much like Little Witch Academia: The Enchanted Parade had more than doubled it’s duration. It was an impressive step in the same direction, and a notable growth ring in the studio’s progression.
The third and most recent occurrence of this happened again this Spring season past, except this time under completely different circumstances. Kiznaiver and Space Patrol Luluco, both television series during the same season, shared the same space (almost literally as both were part of Ultra Super Anime Time block) running alongside each other for 13 weeks, unlike the two net-animations and Little Witch films which hardly touched in terms of time and space. But despite being so close, the two couldn’t be further apart. One of the two projects, Kiznaiver, included an outsider, Mari Okada, in the prominent roll of writer, and while correlation does not imply causation, Imaishi’s timing for Luluco seems almost confrontational. It’s as if sufficient funds didn’t exist for TRIGGER to have two shows airing at the same time (at least, that had been the case in the past), so Imaishi decided to settle for 7 minute shorts, but went through the effort of hand-drawn animation nonetheless. The timing of the situation is peculiar; why not hold off as before, suspending projects until one wraps up before going at it? Why does Luluco have to come out now?
In an interview with the anime magazine PASH!, Kiznaiver director Hiroshi Kobayashi expressed that Kiznaiver was a unique TRIGGER work that wouldn’t be Trigger-like. Indeed, that’s the impression I and many other received when going into the show; TRIGGER was trying to expand their audience, deepen their repertoire like they had while working at GAINAX. And I think Luluco addresses this thought. You see, I think Luluco is Imaishi’s response to Kiznaiver, the status of studio TRIGGER, and the current anime industry as a whole. Assuming I am correct, than that gives Luluco a much deeper meaning than what is being presented to us on the surface. I propose a more metaphorical reading of Luluco.
But what evidence is there to demand this? In the same PASH! interview, Kobayashi stated: “Some of the core members of TRIGGER, like Hiroyuki Imaishi-san and Yoh Yoshinari-san, have the image of working on more “boyish” projects, the type that sort of give an impression of “iron and blood.” My impression was that this work didn’t seem to fit the genre that TRIGGER’s staff tends to excel in.” In fact, during production, the predominantly male staff meet a more even gender ratio: almost 50/50, but that wasn’t the only change Kobayashi made.
“The biggest change to the story after I joined the staff was to turn it from a battle-heavy work into one that depicts what’s in the characters’ hearts, the sort of thing Okada-san specializes in. Even though there are already eight main characters to flesh out, I knew that adding a lot of battle elements would make Okada-san want to flesh out the inner hearts of the enemies, too! And if that happened, it would exceed the scope of a TV show, so I suggested that it might be better to keep the focus on those eight main characters instead. I remember the staff very easily agreed to that. I’ve been involved with a few battle-centered series before, but truthfully, action is not my strong suit. I have an easier time depicting the time leading up to a character’s final resting place than depicting battle scenes. I consider it ideal to get battle scenes taken care of in one cut and be done with it.”
With the new staff in place, the original battle show that Kiznaiver was meant to be was changed to focus on Mari Okada’s perceived specialty. Original ideas included the characters’ fighting ability would be enhanced when their pain was linked and that both characters fought with increased risk of sharing the same fate. With Kobayashi holding a disinterest in battle scenes, these new changes would lean more heavily on Okada, and the credits reflect this; she holds the sole writing credit on all twelve episodes. Indeed, Kobayashi accomplished exactly what he set out to do: make a show that was distinctly ‘not-TRIGGER’ while working at studio TRIGGER. What’s more is that Kiznaiver has already positioned itself as one of the lowest selling shows this year and is unlikely to improve, but again, correlation does not imply causation. I’ll be surprised if Kobayashi sees directorial work as long as he remains at TRIGGER.
However the primary reason Luluco must be viewed metaphorically is not solely placed on the shoulders of the ‘TRIGGER but not-TRIGGER’ ilk. August 22nd this year marks the 5th anniversary of the studio, and as such, Imaishi felt it appropriate to walk the hall of fame within TRIGGER’s pantheon, even if the paint had only recently dried. Nearly every major show in the studio’s repertoire is encapsulated in the five-year cour; the selection is very telling in terms of what Imaishi is attempting to say: “Here is my canon, this is what TRIGGER anime is.” With the exception of You Yoshinari’s Little Witch Academia, every homage is a show that Imaishi had a hand in producing (as can be seen by his inclusion of Sex & Violence with Mach Speed and exclusion of all other TOR shorts), or as Kobayashi put it, TRIGGER’s “more ‘boyish’ projects”. It’s Imaishi reciprocating to Kobayashi’s sentiment.
We discovered from Evan Minto’s question at Anime NEXT 2015, TRIGGER loves to trash talk. It was Shigeto Koyama who replied: “I guess everybody kind of trash talks a lot at TRIGGER. (Turns to other Trigger folks) I don’t know, you guys trash talk all the time and I can’t think of anything else.”
“I go back and forth between Khara and TRIGGER.” continues Kill la Kill character designer Sushio.” When I come back from Khara after a while to this noisy environment, I always think, ‘these guys are damn crazy.'” Luluco is a bit of that trash talking – Imaishi trolling his own studio.
Shift the conversation back to Luluco. What is there to suggest Imaishi has any aversion to this ‘TRIGGER not-TRIGGER’ notion? Luluco is a show that obsesses over being ‘normal’ and blowing normal out of proportion. Luluco proceeds like a normal anime, while doing so in the most obnoxious fashion to prove how normal something can be and still not be normal. We see this in the word usage, as the very word ‘normal’ is used over twelve times in the span of first five minute episode, half of those are in the first minute. And that’s just counting based on the subtitles. If the count is shifted to Japanese, the word for normal (普通 – fuutsu) is used many more times. To say something is not normal in Japanese you’d add the suffix of –ja nai, causing more uses of fuutsu ‘normal’ to say that something is abnormal. Luluco’s obsession with being a normal girl not only guides her actions, but seeps into the very verbiage of all the characters. At the end of episode 3, Luluco asks Nova, “So I should stay normal?” To which he replies, “No, you should stay wonderful.”
The message of resisting normalism becomes much more pronounced by the end of the series, when Luluco’s father ends the episode by addressing her as Ms. Trigger. At the start of every episode we hear ‘watashi Luluco‘, I’m Luluco; it’s the reason calling her Ms. Trigger is such a big deal – it’s a revelation. This title isn’t to overwrite the existing identity of Luluco, but more like an complementary addendum of deeper backstory and character development. Herein lies the key to understanding Luluco‘s metaphor: Luluco herself is TRIGGER in the exact same way Gerneral Products (later renamed GAINAX) was anthropomorphized by DAICON-chan. The extent Luluco is worried about being normal is matched in Kiznaiver‘s preoccupation with being a show that “didn’t seem to fit the genre that TRIGGER’s staff tends to excel in.” a.k.a. ‘TRIGGER but not-TRIGGER’.
With Luluco’s equivalence to TRIGGER, it is safe to assume that each character can be equated with similar allegorical value; point and case, Luluco’s father is the equivalent modern GAINAX. It was 2006 when Hideaki Anno left the studio to form Khara, one year before Imaishi’s series director debut on Tenga Toppa Gurren Laggan. Anno’s departure was not the only one, as fellow GAINAX co-founder, Takami Akai, quit the studio during production due to controversy over episode 4. Imaishi would stay with GAINAX for another five years until following Anno’s example in 2011, forming TRIGGER with Masahiko Ohtsuka, GAINAX now a malnourished shadow of its former self. And much like Luluco’s father, GAINAX was left on ice and in pieces. In fact, Imaishi shows tend to have a sort of ‘father’s-legacy-ripped-to-pieces’ complex: Gurren Lagann had the Spiral King’s head in a jar, while in Kill la Kill Ryuko’s dad is killed and the scissor blade broken in two. Luluco’s father meets the same fate, and like the other two dad’s, one piece of them is left with their daughter: a head, a pair of eyes, or a scissor blade.
More interesting is Nova’s position as Luluco’s first love. Recall this quote? “…Hiroyuki Imaishi-san and Yoh Yoshinari-san, have the image of working on more “boyish” projects…” Nova is the literal embodiment of that statement. He is a “”boyish” project”, more specifically, Nova is modern anime, the first love of Ms. Trigger. He is emotionless up until the very end, yet pretty to look at, and any sort of characterization he receives is in response to those around him. This is why the Blackholiens devalue him (more on them later), yet Luluco loves him. This is also the reason he is the only character in the series able to keep footing against the space pirate and Luluco’s mother, Lalaco Godspeed.
If Luluco is TRIGGER and her detective father – GAINAX, the symbol of Lalaco becomes clear. Applying the same logic that brings us to the conclusion of Nova’s character, GAINAX’s first love would also be anime, but of a different era. This would also imply that TRIGGER is the child of GAINAX and their love for classic anime. Examples of this are ever present in every Imaishi production; animating in the Yoshinori Kanada style, a disciple in the Osamu Dezaki directorial approach. Imaishi has gone on record to say he is a firm believer in paying homage, and does so frequently, even to himself. This idea is further enforced at the end of the series with Luluco’s father chasing Lalaco at the same time Luluco sets off after Nova, drawing the parallel. But notice how the conflict I previously eluded to in episode 5 between Lalaco and Nova plays out. As Lalaco wreaks complete havoc and is about to clobber Luluco, Nova intercedes, catching her fist and forcing a stare-down that is never resolved. It was a small statement on the ‘anime now vs then, what happened?’ argument that insists somehow the medium has degraded. It hasn’t.
In this light, the Blackholiens represent the nay-Sayers who find no value in modern anime whatsoever. But Imaishi made it clear, they aren’t just those who oppose anime, but find nothing of value in anything else as well. Traditionally, critique and critical thought was applied to only the most valued of art, but today it has seeped into all medium, regardless of innate value. The fact that you are 2,000 words into an article about a five minute Japanese cartoon proves this. Viewing Nova as modern anime, it makes sense why he’s called a Nothingling, he only possesses a marketable aesthetic. At least, that is the attitude of the Blackholiens. In Imaishi’s narrative about making a normal anime, he recognizes that some anime is hollow, but ultimately rejects the notion that it is valueless. He asserts that the love for anime is reason enough for its existence.
There is a spirit to a TRIGGER work that demands you love or hate it. In a 2011 interview taken when the studio was first founded, CEO Masahiko Otsuka stated, “…inside the animation circle, I felt that a paradigm shift was happening concerning the method of production and management. To accommodate this situation, it seemed necessary to create a new studio.” They had found their Ogikubo, but lost it trying to make something normal, or in other words something that “…didn’t seem to fit the genre that TRIGGER’s staff tends to excel in.” – ‘TRIGGER but not-TRIGGER’. Imaishi refuses to make ‘normal’ anime.
At the end of episode 3, Luluco asks Nova, “So I should stay normal?” To which he replies, “No, you should stay wonderful.”