Shingo Araki Retrospective
Shingo Araki, famed character designer and animator, passed away this Thursday due to acute circulatory failure at the age of 72. Araki’s dramatic designs and flair helped to define the aesthetic of anime in the 70s and 80s; he contributed to the art of such influential anime as Rose of Versailles and Saint Seiya. He continued to work up until this year, contributing character designs to the ongoing Ring ni Kakero! series. Araki has adapted the designs of Leiji Matsumoto, Mitsuteru Yokoyama and Shigeru Mizuki; he has worked alongside giants like Osamu Tezuka, Osamu Dezaki and Yoshiyuki Tomino; he left an indelible mark on the medium of Japanese animation.
However, magical girl fans should especially look back on Araki’s career with reverence. Shingo Araki’s work on early mahou shoujo anime truly helped to define the spirit of the genre. Araki worked as an animator on various episodes of early majokko series Mahou Tsukai Chappy and Mahou no Mako-chan; he was put to work as a character designer on the “off-season” magical girl of 1973, Cutie Honey. Honey eschewed the more squat, cartoony look of prior magical girls like Sally and Ecchan. Its heroine is older and more realistically-drawn, according to the original design by the eccentric Go Nagai for his manga in Shounen Champion. Araki reconciled Nagai’s boisterous shounen designs with the feminine demographic of the TV series, equipping Honey with a detailed face and willowy structure reminiscent of contemporary shoujo artists like Moto Hagio. Perhaps some of the anime Honey’s flair can also be credited to another influence in Araki’s life and art, staffer and wife Michi Himeno, with whom he began his collaborations during the production of Cutie Honey. These two would go on to become one of the most prominent husband-wife teams in anime; their partnership would fuse the best motifs of shounen and shoujo anime, with Araki designing male characters and Himeno creating the ladies. In any case, after the success of Cutie Honey— and particularly of Araki’s striking heroine— Araki began a long career with shoujo and magical girl anime, starting with Toei’s next big magical girl project, Majokko Megu-chan.
Megu would become Araki’s magical girl magnum opus and solidify the pattern visuals for magical girls for years to come. As series director, Shingo Araki introduced to the genre of the mousy Akko and Mako a Cutie Honey-esque garishness: technicolor coiffures, flouncy miniskirts, sparkles and textures all over the place, girls with big attitudes. Today’s magical girls like Sailor Moon and Pretty Cure owe a large debt to the look of Majokko Megu-chan; more recently, the anime adaptation of Anno’s Sugar Sugar Rune payed copious homage to Megu in its colorful opening sequence. The series brought a certain amount of glam and sassiness to the magical girl genre which has never truly worn off, and which can probably be attributed to an Arakian sensibility.
After Megu, Araki would be the go-to artist for magical girl anime until the end of the Toei majokko period. He missed Majokko Tickle (another Go Nagai work) likely due to his involvement with Galaxy Express 999, Yamato and Lupin III, but in 1979 the newly formed Araki Pro produced character designs for Toei’s latest post-Candy Candy magical girl, Hana no Ko Lun Lun. Himeno designed the doll-like Lun Lun, while Araki filled the cast with his trademark bulb-headed figures. Lun Lun, while attempting to follow the example of the successful Candy Candy, inherits a good deal of the Megu-chan spirit in its decadent sparkliness and likeable comic villains. Following Lun Lun, Araki Pro had one more outing with Toei’s majokko swan song, Mahou Shoujo Lalabel. This time headed by a confused jumble of different directors, Lalabel at times comes across as a poor man’s Megu. However, its heroine, designed by Araki full of spirit and charm, allowed the series to be a quiet success. Following Lalabel, Toei closed the doors on new magical girls for much of the 80s.
Araki made his name during the 80s, working on titles from Rose of Versailles to Saint Seiya to Legend of the Galactic Heroes. He did, however, return to magical girls during this period: working at Mushi Pro, Araki contributed some animation to Osamu Tezuka’s Marvelous Melmo. In comparison to his work as a designer, however, this is of little note.
I’m sure it could be argued that Araki introduced some negative things to the magical girl genre; he is responsible for the earliest “fanservice” magical girls in Cutie Honey and Majokko Megu-chan, to be sure, and Araki Pro’s luxuriously marketable designs may be responsible for much of the genre’s merch-over-substance ethic. However, the characters that Shingo Araki built remain some of the most charming and unique of the genre, and certainly without his influence, magical girls could never be as tough, elegant and interesting as they now are. Therefore, we’d like to salute this father of magical girls and thank him for his irreplaceable contributions to the genre we love.
addendum: Can anyone confirm whether Araki and Himeno were married? Various sources list this as so (including Mike Toole’s retrospective) but others name someone else as his wife. Any definitive statement?