Even if you haven't heard of Hiroyuki Imaishi by name, you've almost certainly seen his work. The dynamic director of Gurren Lagann and Kill la Kill began his career at GAINAX, establishing a kinetic style that, once seen, is never forgotten.
He'll be returning to our screens as the action director for DARLING in the FRANXX, Studio Trigger's new mecha series. His direction will bring to life the slim, powerful mecha designs Shigeto Koyama. But what's come before? It would be impossible to put a full spotlight on every contribution Imaishi has made to the giant robot genre... but mecha fans wondering what to expect likely don't have to look much further than their own DVD shelf for examples.
Hot-blooded cultural phenomenon Gurren Lagann is a no-brainer for this list and absolutely belongs first and foremost. The over-the-top action sequences exemplify, both in human-based and mecha-based encounters, the animation style for which Imaishi has become so well known.
Imaishi's usage of Yoh Yoshinari's wild mechanical designs isn't just impressive for its Moon-combining and galaxy-chucking, though. More down-to-earth scenes involving Gunmen -- especially Simon's Lagann -- bring the action to a different scale and even allow for a bit of humor along the way.
Of course, Imaishi having his start at GAINAX means he was going to be involved in Evangelion to some degree -- and this is actually where his career began. After twelve episodes as an in-betweener, he went on to do key animation for the series's variegated finales. Since then, he's returned to do key work for Rebuild movies 2.0 and 3.0.
(Also, yes, we hear those of you yelling that Evas are technically giant armored cyborgs and not robots. We know that, too, but you try writing an article about giant robots on a major anime news site and not including Evangelion.)
Here's another that falls under "questionable robot status," but for our purposes, it really belongs here.
For potentially the most solid look at what to expect from DARLING in the FRANXX, look no further than episode 25 of Star Driver. The mecha series also features designs by Shigeto Koyama -- so if you felt like those FRANXX designs looked familiar, you weren't wrong! Koyama's designs moved under the pen of Imaishi, who was key animator for the series finale.
Surprise! Even the King of Braves got a hand from Imaishi. Episodes 28 and 30 of the Sunrise yuusha series were animated with assistance from GAINAX, with Imaishi as key animator. Fans of the series will remember the epic battle between GaoGaiGar and EI-01, in which the latter launched devastating attacks by flooding the air with mirror shards and bouncing lasers off them in all directions. It shouldn't be surprising who was at the drawing board for this one!
Hayate fans will not only not be surprised by this show's inclusion, but may well remember the exact episode in question. Imaishi stepped in for episode 39 of the series, which included a Gurren Lagann-inspired robot and battle sequence. Because who better to mimic someone's style than that very person?
Imaishi absolutely delivers in his self-parody, delivering more lens flare than J.J. Abrams in a glass house and Hayate's use of him for their robot pastiche says a lot about who's at the top of the mecha anime game right now!
Imaishi only did one piece of key animation for Dai-Guard, but you can't miss it. The giant robot/office worker sci-fi series features his key animation for the opening sequence!
Finally (at least for this list), Imaishi's fingerprints are all over GAINAX action/sci-fi sequel Diebuster. He sat in as key animator for three episodes and oversaw mecha animation for episode 4. While feelings on its existence in the Gunbuster universe are fairly divided, it's still an amazing piece of eye candy.
This isn't even everything Imaishi has done in the world of giant robot anime! He's been a part of Heroman, Gad Guard, Medabots, Gundam 00, Gaiking, and so many more that detailing all of them would keep us here all day. In short -- it seems DARLING in the FRANXX is going to be one heck of an action-packed ride, and we cannot wait to see what this new cast of mecha and pilots gets up to.
DARLING in the FRANXX starts next month on Crunchyroll.
Kara Dennison is responsible for multiple webcomics, blogs and runs interviews for (Re)Generation Who and PotterVerse, and is half the creative team behind the OEL light novel series Owl's Flower. She blogs at karadennison.com and tweets @RubyCosmos. Her latest stories can be found in Whoblique Strategies.