Luluco – Imaishi’s Refusal to Make Normal Anime

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.”


Add yours →

  1. Given the nature of this article, I feel this is appropriate. So, with all due sincerity I say: (it’s Congratulations! because Of Course)

    With respect to how you characterize Nova here, it’s a neat detail that he has a Kiznaiver scar on his body.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am one of those mythical beings who enjoyed both of TRIGGER’s series this season. Luluco primarily on an experiential level, so this intellectual take on it was fantastic, and Kiznaiver on a more technical thematic level, which I’ve explored in a pair of posts on the series.

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  3. I think Imaishi’s love of homage is something that causes a lot of show’s he’s worked on to have subtext like this, not just Luluco. TTGL is literally reckless: it moves from point A to point B with no regard for logic, because the logic isn’t what it cares about – he cares about robots, fighting, explosions, Yamato-esque spaceships, and hypermasculine grandstanding. The second half of the show addresses this recklessness somewhat and introduces a measure of logic, but both feel like lip service. If you ask me, more than anything else, TTGL ends up being a showcase of technical prowess and homages to its own various influences; and while it acknowledges what might be cavalier or problematic about those influences, to me the prime thing it says is: “This is what I think is cool. Deal with it.”

    You could say something similar of Panty & Stocking, which is even more self-conscious about being potentially offensive but still exercising a lot of creativity and talent in its production, or even Kill la Kill. (“Nonsense is our thing!”) Heck, you could even go back further than shows Imaishi helmed himself and look at FLCL, in which Naota “swinging the bat” entailed him deciding not to be heavily influenced by what other people think of him, accepting his own feelings, and being honestly open with them. And FLCL is certainly not lacking in celebratory references to earlier works.

    Which leads me to a weird position, because while I actually really, really like this, it’s also why I’m not a big fan of Luluco. I love the idea that Imaishi makes such energetic cartoons because he wants to share the passion he has for his own influences with the world. But while Luluco has some standout scenes, I felt that overall, it rarely had the same expressive power as Imaishi’s previous work. Even though Luluco’s subtext in this vein is much stronger and more straightforward than those shows’, it doesn’t resonate quite as well for me (with the possible exception of Kill la Kill). I appreciate this reading of Luluco, and I agree with it, but I don’t think it’s the first time Imaishi has carried it across, and I liked it more in better-produced shows.

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  4. I really do love Imaishi & Triggers’ works, that said I also really liked Kiznaiver. While it definitely felt more “serious,” I felt like it still had plenty of Trigger flair. Hiroshi Kobayashi (the director) really seems to have a lot of talent, for his directorial debut he did an amazing job. The composition & framing of the scenes all were spectacular, which along with the great characters & gorgeous animation, were a definite highlight. While I think portions of the script & the sci-fi B plot were weaker elements, on the whole I was very impressed.

    Honestly, I don’t think Trigger should feel constrained by “their” style. I mean, even within the other Trigger works, each director definitely has their own feel. Yoh Yoshinari’s LWA series is nothing like Imaishi’s work, (Kill la Kill – Luluco) while they are both quite different from Akira Amemiya’s shows. (Inferno Cop – inja Slayer) While together they make the overall image of Trigger come together beautifully, they all clearly have their own individual voice. Hiroshi Kobayashi is an incredibly talented new director, and I think he’s clearly a great addition to Trigger’s stable. Imaishi doesn’t have to stop making his style of show, that would be idiotic, we all love his stuff. But that hardly means there isn’t room for a fantastic new director.

    I also find it kind of silly that the more “standard” Trigger style is referred to as more “boyish,” when the majority have female leads and very large female fanbases. Just seems a bit – shortsighted.

    Also, it’s kind of humorous that Kiznaiver is being singled out as the first “non-Trigger” Trigger series, I mean Hacka Doll & Inou-Battle wa Nichijou-kei no Naka de (light novel names are so attrocious lol) were all cheap additions to the endless wave of generic anime being made nowadays. I get that they were made just so Trigger could make money to fund their original series, I don’t hold it against them at all, and hardly count them as Trigger shows. That said, those are FAR more egregious examples of Trigger making boring, ordinary anime than Kiznaiver, which was nothing of the sort.

    (Also – with all the in-references between the two series, and all the fun the creators & workers expressed for both shows via Twitter and the like, seems to imply that Trigger was very enthusiastic about both series…so…I mean Imaishi even drew some Kiznaiver fanart…)

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    • I hear what you’re saying, but I think there are some restrictions on which shows we’re addressing; Imaishi shows and original properties. I think in some regards, Kobayashi put himself at odds with the core TRIGGER staff (at least, that’s how it comes off) and that caused a lot of discord as I wrote. He’s a fine director, but I’m not sure he’s going to fit into the frat party TRIGGER.

      Now, does Imaishi outright hate and rage at Kiznaiver? No. And that wouldn’t make sense if he were to openly express that. But seeing how they jumped through more hoops than usual and ended up with nothing and it was something outside their typical “boyish” scope, I think a natural recoil is to be expected. I just think that recoil happened sooner than after the fact, and that’s why it was expressed in Luluco.


      • Yeah, I think the points you were making are interesting, and perhaps I was a little aggressive in my initial wording. I’m sure that Imaishi isn’t going to be touching shows of Kiznaiver’s ilk with a 50 foot pole, (in terms of direction or involvement) but I still don’t think that Kobayashi will be getting the boot. I think that Imaishi, at the very least respects Kiznaiver, even if he doesn’t like it. (which he might) Considering how different Yoh Yoshinari’s style is from Imaishi, I think that Trigger will certainly have a place for someone like Kobayashi.

        While Gainax and Trigger are definitely not the same entity, there is quite a bit of continuity between them and Yoshiyuki Sadamoto (character designer for Wings of Honneamise, Gunbuster, Nadia, Evangelion, FLCL, and Diebuster) has said that one of Gainax’s biggest strengths is how open it is (was) to letting artists do as they pleased. Trigger seems to carry over much of Gainax’s attitude, perhaps amped up quite a bit, and I don’t think they’re the type to exclude or disallow creatives from doing what they want. I mean, they did make Kiznaiver after all. The show was hardly made in a vacuum, or solely from Kobayshi’s intent. The studio as a whole seems to be very warm and close, with various members of the studio celebrating each other’s work. I follow several Trigger members on Twitter, and I’ve yet to see anything but unsupressed excitement for making anime. And as I mentioned before, Imaishi has done quite a bit of Kiznaiver fan art, and Luluco appeared in Kiznaiver’s final episode. (the Gomorin’s & Kizna scars also made an appearance in Luluco’s last 2 episodes) Finally, based on some recent discussions at Anime Expo, I think it’s safe to say Trigger is a studio that loves doing what it’s doing, and I hardly think they hold scorn for a certain one of their works & directors.

        One last thing, while I don’t think it was the best of Trigger’s work, I definitely enjoyed Kiznaiver a whole lot. It was very well done, and I don’t quite get what you mean about it not succeeding, if anything it seems to have gotten quite a bit of popularity. In any case, I’ll be excited to see Kobayashi work on a more ambitious Trigger product. While Kiznaiver was pretty good, I think his talents will be better used later on. His style is clearly inspired by Akiyuki Shinbo, or even better Kunuhiko Ikuhara. It’s no coincidence that many viewers felt that Kiznaiver was reminiscent of Bakemonogatari or Mawaru Penguindrum. The director has tons of style and skill, and I can’t wait to see that flair on a larger, more exciting project.

        Anyways, thanks for giving your opinion, this was an interesting article though I disagreed with parts of it. Sorry for being a bit obnoxious at first, but nice talking. Have a good one!


  5. Luluco is an amazing personified look at the love for everything it is and references and anime as a whole. It’s really something quite special that deserves all the appreciation and lovely discussions (like this) it gets.


  6. I like the insight onto the creative staff using the tropes in LuLuCo as catharsis while they made Kiznaiver. I was always surprised by how blank Nova remains even until the end, and your explanations make some sense.

    Do you guys have any WMC pieces that go deeper on Kiznaiver? I have so many mixed impressions of that show, being just moderately familiar with both Trigger and Okada. I was aware it was the anime stepchild of Trigger even before its birth, but it definitely shows in the trajectory of that show falling flat at the end. I get why Imaishi wasn’t emotionally attached to that project, but I have a hard time having sympathy for Trigger on that show because like… they didn’t have to make it or narrow it down to those specific clichés to reach a wider audience. I feel they could have gone more generic without doing something that ended so tritely, when triteness and lack of substance seem to what Trigger resents most about “mainstream” anime. I know Okada can love a cliché ending, but I think the responsibility falls to Trigger as much as her for how “meh” the ending impression of the show was. There was plenty of potential and it feels like the creators gave up on the show before they had given it a real attempt at follow-through.

    I really respect Trigger for what they do visually and for their attempts to take anime in their own direction, but I have a hard time taking them as seriously as they take themselves. I just don’t feel their shows carry as many sincere messages of *storytelling* that is as different from mainstream anime as they claim. I do think their visual achievements are unique and a fair reason for them to feel disenfranchised by the current artistic standards of anime, but I personally have felt disenfranchised by some elements of the writing they generally use. LuLuCo was a fun romp that took me away from that impression, but I had some hope that Kiznaiver would inject some new life into the areas of their writing I’ve been disappointed in, and it just didn’t quite pull through, either, in different ways.

    I guess I’m wondering: how do you feel overall about Kiznaiver as a standalone work, and as a Trigger show that they themselves mostly alienate from their canon? What value do you think it holds in itself and for Trigger, and do you think their general dismissal of it is fair, given that it’s still their creation?

    (This might be an article-length essay question, forgive me 🙂 )

    Liked by 1 person

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