Long before Ed Sheeran took a crack at making a Pokemon music video, another, more elaborate concoction was released in 2020, in anticipation of the 25th anniversary of the franchise. The music video was called “GOTCHA!,” animated by Studio Bones and directed by Rie Matsumoto, a director that is seriously underrated.
Two years she broke the internet with Gotcha, Matsumoto directed another music video celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Japanese Confectionary brand Lotte. Both were animated by Bones, both had music by Bump of Chicken, and Matsumoto helmed both, but these music videos barely scratch the surface of what she is capable of.
A Rising Star
Circa 2015-2016, there was much debate over where Matsumoto’s career would take her, as she had somewhat slipped under the radar in the mainstream up until she worked on Kekkai Sensen. Also known as Blood Blockade Battlefront, Kekkai was an action series from Studio Bones that instantly got people talking.
Adapted from a manga by legendary Trigun Author Yashirow Nightow, Kekkai Sensen was a supernatural action show set in New York City, a unique setting among other contemporaries. But what truly set it apart was the way the insanity was presented, through a musically rich and eclectic portrait of the supernatural through the eyes of a young man navigating youth.
As the series continued, the frantic pacing and the confidence with which the series set its priorities became associated with its director. The show was so fun that it was exciting just to think what they would work on next. Many didn’t even realize what she had already created, limited as her directorial credits may have been.
It’s hard to talk about Matsumoto’s reputation without also mentioning her good friend, animator Yuki Hayashi, not to be confused with the composer of the same name. The two of them have been friends since college and shared a similar drive for anime, hence why they have worked together on projects since then.
Matsumoto’s had her first big directing role on Heartcatch Precure! The Movie: Hana no Miyako de Fashion Show… Desu ka!?, having already worked on the Precure series for years. Toei would be her home for a while, working on Precure and even directing the premiere of Marie & Gali, a peculiar series about a gothic lolita befriending Galileo Galilei and other scientists from history.
Even in these smaller projects, her strengths were evident in the way that she composed scenes and presented the grandiosity of some settings and the smaller cozier comforts of others. There was also a quirkiness that could be juvenile but heartfelt much the same, and her superiors clearly believed in her talents, because they picked her to direct an original series.
Kyousougiga was a masterwork by Matsumoto and Hayashi that certainly broke the mold of Toei Animation’s typical image. The show’s history is as bizarre as the story itself, having started as a 5-minute short in 2011, then a series of ONAs a year later, then finally a TV series one year after to offer the full story.
Many people might watch “Episode 0” of Kyousougiga and find themselves perplexed beyond the ability to continue. Because it was originally produced as a preview of sorts without the guarantee of getting a full conclusion, Matsumoto opted for something chaotic and quick, but that would spotlight every character.
Even though they’re 2D characters, once drawn I still hold responsibility over them, and while I won’t be drawing them until I die, at least 3 months should be fine. So I wanted to give all the characters a proper conclusion.
-Rie Matsumoto, October 25, 2013
Episode 0 throws viewers into the world and frames the conflict around an event late in the series, then Episode 1 goes back to the beginning and progresses linearly, but with no dip in its pacing. Matsumoto’s style can be called chaotic, but it isn’t to say that it never slows down. Rather, there is almost always something visually interesting happening, even if it’s a quiet scene of conversation.
Her style succeeds because she treats storyboards and key animation as a filmmaker like Edgar Wright might treat a camera. Matsumoto often employs still imagery, particularly candid-looking photos of characters, to convey information, as well as to present characters as lively as possible. This is to say nothing of the times when the shot is literally from a camera’s perspective.
There are certain kinds of shots that become synonymous with her style when you’ve seen enough of her work. She uses a lot of fish-eye lenses to fit a lot of characters into one frame, capturing an entire room full of expressive character acting. An extremely common trope is the use of wide shots in which the characters jump-cut around the “stage” at random, often for comedic effect.
She seems to take any opportunity to frame a scene from a unique perspective or from a character’s POV. The transitions are no less meticulous, using a lot of abstract imagery to signal a change in the scene. Abstraction is a big part of her winning formula, used to momentarily put the characters into all kinds of funny scenarios to liven up scenes of simple dialog.
It’s safe to say that her style might not be for everyone and sometimes her original stories can be confusing, mainly on account of how much it demands your attention to catch details. These are stories meant to be poured over and rewatched to pick up new details that deepen the experience. To her credit, even when not everything is clear, there is almost always something keeping the audience invested.
Perhaps the music and its intercourse with the visuals, be it Go Shiina’s score for Kyousougiga or Taisei Iwasaki’s for Kekkai Sensen. In other ways, it’s the characters, who feel human and layered no matter how absurd the world around them is. Perhaps it’s the way that both of the series she has directed have a large focus on family.
When I’m creating a work these days, I think it’s one of the themes I’m really drawn to is figuring out one’s place in the world… I think the family theme naturally comes from that.
– Rie Matsumoto, Sakura Con 2016
Kyousougiga is about a lot of things, from a mirror version of Kyoto inside a world of drawings to a feud between the city’s lords to a plot to destroy existence, but at the center is a story of a family. The same goes for Kekkai Sensen, where this superhero team that feels like a cross between the Avengers and Hellboy becomes a family to the lost young man on a quest to help his sister.
The saddest part about being a fan of Rie Matsumoto’s work is knowing how long it’s been since she directed her own big project. Her last series was Kekkai‘s first season back in 2015. Thankfully, her work on the Lotte and Pokemon MVs has gotten more eyes on her, and she continues to foster a good relationship with Studio Bones.
Even with a limited number of directorial credits, Rie Matsumoto has managed to achieve acclaim and respect among those in the community aware of her that few as young as her have attained. There have been rumors about a new project of hers in the works, but it’s hard to source any such claims, so for now fans eagerly await to be wowed again by this stunning young director.
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Sources: Heroine Problem, Wave Motion Canon,