With an ever-increasing amount of anime getting made each year, so had the number of directors. And with that increase, even more female animators have been given opportunities to direct anime. In 2011, only four series had women directing anime in a lead or series role, including two seasons of Sekai-Ichi Hatsukoi directed by Chiaki Kon. In 2013 the pool increased to 16. Since that year, at least ten series has been directed by women each year. These trends follow when you exclude anime shorts and only look at full-length episode TV series, as well as when looking at just Otaku TV series. However women did direct a sizable chunk of anime shorts.
The Class of 2013
The year 2013 had a number of returning directors. The prolific Chiaki Kon directed two TV series, Golden Time and Makai Ouji. This year also featured Naoko Yamada’s first post-K-ON! work, Tamako Market. But this year also featured the TV anime series debut of seven female anime directors.
Mitsue Yamazaki – After serving as assistant director for Mawaru Penguindrum under Kunihiko Ikuhara in 2011, she became the director of the Hakkenden anime adaption. With Osamu Yamasaki as the chief director for the series, she handled not just director duties, but was also credited with series composition. Since then, she would also direct Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun in 2014 and Magic-kyun! Renaissance in 2016.
Ai Yoshimura – Yoshimura’s work can be found prominently on the Gintama franchise, but she would get a foothold as the assistant director for The Daily Lives of High School Boys. But in 2013, she made her debut as the chief director for Oregairu. Though she would not join the second season of that project, she would be hired to direct a series a year: the shoujo story Ao Haru Ride in 2014, Rejet’s Dance with Devils in 2015, and Cheer Boys!! in 2016.
Kaori – In the spring, Kaori (full name Kaori Fujita) made her debut as director on the cult favorite adaption of the 4-koma Yuyushiki. Since then, she has not been the sole director on a TV franchise. However, she co-directed the second season of the children’s short Bottom Biting Bug and served as assistant director for 2016’s Scorching Ping Pong Girls.
Hiroko Utsumi – As the second woman to make her directorial debut on a Kyoto Animation project, the Animation Do animator got to lead two seasons of the popular swimming series Free! She however left the company, with the second ED for DAYS as her most notable piece of work since then.
Mirai Minato – The mysterious Minato can be found on a number of SilverLink project, but made her directorial debut on the first season of Fate/kaleid Prisma Ilya working jointly with both Takashi Sakamoto and Shin Oonuma. She worked on later season of the franchise in less prominent roles, but was selected to lead 2017’s adaption of the Masamune-kun no Revenge manga.
Soubi Yamamoto – Yamamoto’s journey through the anime industry is unique compared to most. After self-producing a number of shorts, she was taken in by Makoto Shinkai’s CoMix Wave Films and released the OVAs This Boy Can Fight Aliens and This Boy Caught a Merman. She focuses prominently on the BL and Sekai-kei genre. But in 2013 she became the director for the raucous comedy Meganebu! She released a third OVA, This Boy Suffers from Crystallization, while her next project, This Boy is a Professional Wizard was broadcast on TV as a four episode short.
Rie Matsumoto – Matsumoto made her debut as a movie director before becoming a TV director with the Heartcatch Precure movie. Afterwards, she created a one episode OVA called Kyousogiga. That OVA got expanded into a series of shorts before becoming a full-scale TV series in 2013. After leaving Toei, she joined the studio Bones and directed the first season of Blood Blockade Battlefront.
While none of these directors have the sort of prolificness that Chiaki Kon does, they all became part of the director talent pool in 2013. Also of note, Kotomi Deai was the assistant director for the first season of Silver Spoon in this year. Another Kyoto Animation offspring, Noriko Takao also had her debut as a movie director with Saint Young Men. Both of these women also joined the talent pool with fruitful results.
But Not Keeping up with the Trends
Though more women than ever are directing anime, they still represent only a small proportion of the director pool.
Though 2016 had the same number of series directed by women as 2013, the proportion has declined. Rather than a proportional increase in directors, the increase in anime produced appears to have driven an increase in female assistant directors.
Madhouse’s Chie Yamashiro found a number of opportunities as an assistant director, while Miyuki Oshira assisted for the continuation of the Durarara franchise. Kei Tsunematsu supported ufotable projects. However, female assistant directors in this time period were mostly different people for different projects rather the same recurring. Several, including Yoshimura, Deai, and Yamazaki would later become the chief directors on future projects.
Among series directors, Chiaki Kon leads the pack in terms of volume. Debuting with the Higurashi franchise in 2006, she has continued to be a staple of the anime industry, and even directed a Precure movie in this time span. Atsuko Ishizuka comes second, including her work on 2011’s Supernatural anime. Though, most anime fans are more likely to recognize 2012’s Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo and the more popular No Game, No Life in 2014. These two are followed by members of the Class of 2013 – Mitsue Yamazaki, Ai Yoshimura, and Kotomi Deai. Naoko Yamada directed Tamako Market and was series director for two season of Sound! Euphonium, but also had three movies between 2011 and 2016: K-ON!, Tamako Love Story, and A Silent Voice.
While more women directing means a larger talent pool to choose from, each studio generally picks from their own connections. Deen had the most series directed by women, but from three directors: Kon, Yamazaki, and Yamamoto. A-1 Pictures had a different set: Takao, Deai, and Yumi Kamakura. The women directing Kyoto Animation series were either Naoko Yamada or Hiroko Utsumi as the company does nearly everything in-house. Madhouse series directed by women were all directed by Ishizuka except one: Btoom! directed by Kotono Watanabe. JC Staff had both Kon and Ishizuka as directors as well as Milky Holmes director Makoto Moriwaki. Probably most representative of the limits of connections and the talent pool is Brains Base – three series directed by women, all by Ai Yoshimura.
A Few Notes on Kids Series
For kids series, the number of opportunities are smaller and the number of women fewer. While there are three women noted in the graph above, they are also associated with specific franchise. Yukiyo Teramoto, who came out of directing Doraemon films, has directed four seasons of Kaitou Joker. Similarly, Moriwaki’s children’s work is specifically two seasons of PriPara and a season of Jewelpet. Yoko Ikeda took over the second season of Young Kindaichi Returns.
There’s a similar pattern assistant directors on kids series, with Yumi Kamakura’s work on the Inazauma 11 Go series and Kumiko Habara on 12-sai.
The number of women directing anime is growing thanks to a number of debuts in 2013, but their share of anime directed isn’t growing. Instead, the anime industry has increasingly become dependent on assistant directors and women have found an increased number of opportunities in that role.
Looking ahead, the number of series directed by women in 2017 is likely to decrease compared to 2016 due to the nature of production schedules. However, if another year like 2013 occurs where many women make their TV anime debuts, the proportion of series directed by women is likely to increase in proportion for the longer term. Thus far only Kaoru Suzuki (Dive!!) and Ayako Kurata (Granblue Fantasy) are known to have been given the opportunity. But with more anime, there’s always more chances.