By His Signature You’ll Know Him: Early Illustrations by Hideaki Anno

Decades of accolades for helming genre-warping projects like Aim for the Top! Gunbuster, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and Shin Godzilla have obscured an important fact — Hideaki Anno really knows how to draw.

When staff for the 20th Japan National SF Convention decided to try something new and create an animated opening video, they quickly realized none of them actually knew how to animate. A friend of theirs pointed them towards Anno, a local student who had been doing amateur animation projects since high school. He knew just enough to get them started and along with Hiroyuki Yamaga and Takami Akai, Anno helped create the Daicon III Opening Animation. Fandom would never be the same.

T-shirt design for General Products by Hideaki Anno.

That short video would lay the groundwork for what would later become Gainax, but before that, there was Daicon Film, focused on producing low-budget parodies, and General Products, a garage kit company with a shop in Osaka (and later Tokyo). For Daicon Film, Anno did design and illustration work (as well as some acting), most noticeably in The Return of Ultraman (1983). He also did work for General Products, illustrating everything from garage kit box art to fan club envelopes.

Garage kit box art for General Products by Hideaki Anno.

After completing the Daicon III Opening Animation, Anno went to Tokyo for work as an animator (explaining his absence from later live-action Daicon Film projects). He made his professional debut on Super Dimension Fortress Macross in 1982 (the first time he’d ever seen a timing sheet — prior to that he’d just done the timing in his head), later working on everything from Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984) to the seminal OVA Cream Lemon POP CHASER (1985).

While Anno garnered a reputation as a top-notch animator that specialized in “animating complex action scenes with mecha and lots of explosions,”1 his early illustration work was charmingly unpolished. He’s always admitted that he’s more skilled at drawing mechanical detail than people (something even Miyazaki reportedly agreed with), but the dichotomy between his mechanical work and characters shines through.

With a style that’s a mix between the master of mechanical design Kazutaka Miyatake and godfather of lolicon Hideo Azuma, it’s hard not to wonder “what if” — what if Anno hadn’t become the second most famous anime director in Japan and still had to draw for a living?

At the very least, we’d get to see more of that wonderfully goofy signature.

Daicon III Setting Materials (1981)

Daicon III Opening Animation

Although often overlooked in English-language accounts of the sci-fi anime boom of the late ’70s, Studio Nue‘s Powered Suit design was hugely influential. Created by Naoyuki Kato and Kazutaka Miyatake for Hayakawa’s SF Magazine in 1975, the design was based on Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers novel and later used on the cover of Hayakawa’s Japanese re-release of the book in 1979, the same year Mobile Suit Gundam debuted.

While Gundam often gets credit for kicking off the trend of “realistic” giant robots, that honor is arguably better attributed to Kato and Miyatake’s design. In 1988, Miyatake updated the design for Sunrise’s Starship Troopers OVA, but the design had already appeared in animation years before courtesy of Anno.

One of the more memorable designs from the Daicon IV Opening Animation – the “Super Macross” with Captain Harlock’s Arcadia and the Space Battleship Yamato in place of the more familiar aircraft carriers. A note on this line art specifically calls out Anno to handle the Arcadia. (Thanks to Renato for pointing that out!)

Anno’s take on the Powered Suit is largely identical to Studio Nue’s original, albeit with a larger head, shoulders, and forearms. It plays a prominent role in the Daicon III Opening Animation, and a lesser role in the Daicon IV Opening Animation, but its prominence in an otherwise diverse collection of sci-fi speaks to its iconic status among fans of the era. General Products produced two version of Anno’s Powered Suit as garage kits, one in cast metal and one in soft vinyl. The former featured packaging art by Anno.

Daicon IV Setting Materials (1983)

Daicon IV Setting Materials (1983)

General Products

Known Space Club

While the influence of anime and tokusatsu in the early work of Gainax and Daicon Film is obvious, perhaps less obvious is the influence of American sci-fi author Larry Niven. Famous for the novel Ringworld, Niven’s influence is seen mostly among the Osaka-based mercantile branch of the Daicon group, as the names General Products, Puppeteer (General Products’ newsletter), and Known Space Club are all derived from Niven’s work.

Known Space Club was General Products’ fan club and those who signed up got a membership card, stickers, and a newsletter. Members also received discounts — advertisements for the early years of Wonder Festival (a one-day garage kit show started by General Products that continues to this day) that Known Space Club members could get in to with a reduced entrance fee.

Anno provided illustrations for a number of stickers and envelopes mailed to fans.

Known Space Club (Sep. 1982)

Known Space Club (May 1983)
Sticker / Envelope / Patch

Puppeteer (1983)

According to Anno’s notes, he drew the above illustration while in the midst of working on the Daicon IV Opening Animation.

General Products Catalog (1985)

“Why Are GenePro goods so expensive?”

The General Products catalog was a one-stop shop for everything a sci-fi, tokusatsu, or anime fan could want. While the company licensed, produced and sold a lot of their own products based on properties as diverse as Blade Runner and Sukeban Deka, they also sold merchandise from other companies. As a result, flip to any given page in a General Products catalog and you’re likely to see familiar western sci-fi like Star Wars and ALIEN alongside Godzilla, Gerry Anderson’s Supermarionation shows, and heaps of Daicon III and IV merchandise.

But beyond a listing of model kits, posters, books, and t-shirts, the General Products catalogs included how-to guides for building garage kits, stickers, and comics drawn by the likes of Kenichi Sonoda (Bubblegum Crisis, Gunsmith Cats) and Anno.

The above comic by Anno, titled “GenePro Classroom,” featured cartoonish versions of General Products co-founders Yasuhiro Takeda and Toshio Okada (referred to as “Yasu-chan” and “Toshi-chan,” respectively) asking about why the prices in the store are so expensive. A character named “Older Sister” then calmly explains to them the realities of Osaka real estate, the difficulties of making your own model kits, and the cost of keeping employees.

Anno also contributed the illustration below to the cover of the same catalog, alongside work by Sonoda and Takami Akai.

General Products Catalog (1985)
Cover / Sticker

Magazine and book illustrations

General Products’ Tricks of the Trade

Masanobu Komaki was an early ally of Daicon Film and General Products. As editor of the anime magazine Animec, Komaki helped promote Daicon III and introduced the Daicon crew to the likes of Yoshiyuki Tomino through a gig doing promotional work for the Space Runaway Ideon film in 1982. In addition to regularly featuring articles like the Daicon IV Production Report, Komaki also hooked up Toshio Okada and Yasuhiro Takeda with a regular column called “General Products’ Tricks of the Trade.”

Animec (Dec. 1983)
Article illustration

Anno handled much of the illustration work featured in these Animec articles, including most (if not all) of the illustrations for Okada and Takeda’s column. The above illustration comes from one of these columns and was based on an illustration from the menu of SID, a cafe located on the premises of the General Products shop in Osaka.

Animec, Vol. 27 (Dec. 1982)
Article Illustration

Animec, Vol. 27 (Dec. 1982)
Article illustration

The two illustrations above are from an article titled “A GenePro Course to Become Proficient: Introduction to Comedy Robotics Engineering.”

Animec (Dec. 1983)
Article Illustration

Macross: Perfect Memory (1983)
Book Illustration, Staff page

“He Loves to Draw Mecha”

After a standout debut as lead animator on the Daicon III Opening Animation, Anno was invited to join Noburo Ishiguro’s Artland studio which was then ramping up production on Macross. Fellow Daicon III alumni Akai and Yamaga also joined Artland, although Akai didn’t stay around for long and soon returned to Osaka. Yamaga, who was the closest person to a “director” on the Daicon III Opening Animation, helped storyboard the show’s opening and made his directorial debut on episode 9, “Miss Macross.”

Faced with a staff shortage, Yamaga began looking for additional staff members to help out at Artland but came up short poking around Tokyo. He called up Akai, who recommended an old classmate, Mahiro Maeda (Evangelion, Kill Bill Vol. 1, The Animatrix). Maeda brought along a friend, Yoshiyuki Sadamoto (character designer for Evangelion), who later described his impression of Anno at Artland as the “tall fellow who sometimes [walked] around in his bare feet.”

At Artland, Anno’s mechanical animation prowess was readily evident and he was reportedly part of the “Mecha Squad” alongside famed animator Ichiro Itano2. Intense almost to a fault, Sadamoto found Anno unapproachable at the studio, citing the fact that he was always talking loudly to himself. Intrigued by his intensity, Sadamoto finally asked Maeda just who that guy was, to which Maeda responded, “That’s Anno. He worked on Daicon III. He loves to draw mecha.”

Comicbox Jr. (Nov. 1984)

Anno regularly contributed short comics to the magazine Comicbox Jr. throughout 1984, with topics ranging from the Daicon Film production of Return of Ultraman to the hardships of being a freelance animator. Shortly after the release of Macross: Do You Remember Love? (1984) Anno illustrated this color page and an accompanying comic detailing the film’s production.

Note the red VF-1S, inspired by the Shotaro Ishinomori tokusatsu show Kaiketsu Zubat (1977) of which Anno was a big fan. After seeing a few episodes of the show courtesy of Anno, Okada had reportedly come up with the idea for Kaiketsu Noutenki – one of the first live-action parodies by Daicon Film. The short film’s lead role of Ken Hayakawa was played by Takeda, who later wrote The Noutenki Memoirs about his experiences during the early days of Daicon Film, General Products, and Gainax.

Animage (Jan. 1985)

“When you’re talking the culmination of mecha and girls in anime, of course, it’s the pioneering Daicon III Opening Animation!”

Illustrated for an Animage insert featuring women and mecha, it’s a bit surprising that they made the decision to go with the Daicon III girl instead of the more recent Daicon IV girl. But, like the quote on the image reminds us – that’s where it all started.

Less than a month before that issue’s cover date, on December 24, 1984, Gainax was formally incorporated to facilitate the production of Royal Space Force. Anno would serve as an animation director on the film.

Further Reading

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  1. Yasuhiro Takeda, The Noutenki Memoirs
  2. Of the eponymous “Itano Circus” and director of the infamous Angel Cop.