Jonathan Clements on the late director Umanosuke Iida
Umanosuke Iida (1961-2010), whose final work Towanoquon is now out in the UK, was born as plain Tsutomu Iida on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. It was his fellow animator Hirotsugu Kawasaki, the future director of Spriggan, who started calling him Umanosuke, in honour of his apparent resemblance to a character of the same name in the comic series 1, 2, Sanshiro. Somehow the name stuck, and appeared on most of his animation credits from Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind onwards.
The multitalented Iida was equally at home working with both pictures and words. He penned the straight-to-video remakes of Go Nagai’s Devilman and created the storyline for Mighty Space Miners. In a joke that got a little out of hand, he credited himself on the latter work by literally transposing the kanji of his name into English, as Horceman Lunchfield (Uma-no-suke Ii-da). This gag backfired in the English-speaking world, where several reviewers assumed that Lunchfield was an obscure, eccentric American sci-fi author, and nobody dared admit they had never heard of him.
“The anime’s based on the books by Lunchfield,” one pundit off-handedly told me, as if we were both supposed to know who Lunchfield was – you know, that guy who was a guest at Somethingcon with Asimov and Heinlein. This meme persisted for a decade in foreign fandom before the Anime Encyclopedia outed Iida as the inadvertent culprit.
In 1996, he took over the directing duties on Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team, after the original director Takeyuki Kanda was killed in a car crash. In the 21st century, Iida’s best known role was arguably as the chief director on the fan-favourite Hellsing (2001), based on the manga by Kouta Hirano. A distaff sequel of sorts to Dracula, it featured a modern-day secret society that protects the British Isles from any paranormal, supernatural or undead threats, and often does so through the volatile means of its own house vampire. He also directed the post-apocalyptic drowned-world series Tideline Blue (2005), based on an idea by Satoru Ozawa, the creator of Blue Submarine No. 6.
In later years, Iida’s work became less directorial than artistic, as he moved back into storyboards. These shot-by-shot comic-style walk-throughs of a film’s scenes are a powerful factor in any anime’s success, and Iida’s handiwork can be seen in shows as diverse as Cowboy Bebop, Shangri La and Birdy the Mighty: Decode.
His website offered information about his career, and at the time of his death, had threatened for two years to also upload details about his hobbies. However, it remained unfinished, as did his final work, the supernatural conspiracy series Towanoquon. His staff, however, put the final touches to it in his honour, and it was mercifully able to reach the finish line, released in several parts to Japanese cinemas in 2011.
Towanoquon is now out on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.