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March 21, 2012 / Bradley

In Memoriam: Noboru Ishiguro

There is a powerful idea at the heart of Macross‘ meta-fiction that seems silly at first: music is a more powerful weapon than mecha. The size, power and focus of your armies won’t matter when their hearts soften to “My Boyfriend is a Pilot,” and they lose the will to kill a species that makes sweet music. Music that makes them remember love. Music that breaks the thousand-year stranglehold of militarism. Music that bridged cultures light-years away from each other, and became the foundation for universal peace. And the man who directed the anime with that powerful idea, that culture trumps warfare, was Noboru Ishiguro. His career parallels that idea.

More than any other director, Ishiguro gave heart and humanity to mecha anime. The machines were cool, yes, but they were never the focus. Their pilots, captains, communications officers, and teenage rebels were the ones who mattered. In his hands, he could make the most epic and epoch-shifting dramas deeply personal, and that approach made everything better. The first eleven episodes of Super Dimensional Fortress Macross is some of the most intense television I’ve ever seen, as everything that could possibly go wrong for our heroes does go wrong, and everyone’s survival hangs on the thinnest threads. Megazone 23‘s grand twist still has impact, even when you know it’s coming, because Ishiguro made sure to invest us in the characters who witness it. Legend of the Galactic Heroes has a sweeping story with a massive cast, but it’s involving because of Ishiguro’s attention to the smallest details of every character. Lohengramm’s immense pride is evident from the way he sits in his captain’s chair, like an emperor on his throne. Wenli’s uncertainty is clear from his slight slouch and the nervous way he adjusts his hat. Oberstein’s menace is evident from his soft speech and the red glimmer in his mechanical eyes. It takes more than just subtitles whenever a character appears to make us remember them. Much like how the music is more important than the mecha, Ishiguro’s skill at prioritizing his characters above their epic science-fiction trappings or the machines they used made for many memorable experiences.

And that skill made for international appeal, because stories with that much heart are alien to cultural barriers. American fandom would be poorer without the influence of Macross and Orguss via Robotech, and the men and women those anime inspired to start their own companies bringing more anime to the states, or to learn Japanese to translate more anime, or to found science-fiction clubs to share more anime with as many people as possible.

His work has aged immensely well, and you owe it to your sense of anime history, to your good taste, and to your need- everyone’s need- for heartfelt stories to watch them. Culture trumps warfare, love trumps culture, and stories this good are immune to the rot of time.

Rest in peace, Noburo Ishiguro. And thank you.

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