Some anime and manga creators are well known worldwide. For instance, mention Hideaki Anno to an anime fan and many will instantly realize who you're talking about. However, others remain largely unknown despite creating -- or having a significant role in -- legendary shows. Nowhere is this better displayed than with Kunihiko Ikuhara, as despite being a massive part of anime history, the famously eccentric Penguindrum creator isn't as well known as his contemporaries.
Ikuhara recently made headlines when he announced he would be changing his name to Bonsoir Ikuhara, a move that turned out to be a creative promotion for his new musical project called Teiko BonBon. However, this isn't the only time the famous creator has bucked the trend and followed his own path.
Kunihiko Ikuhara joined Toei Animation in 1986, with his earliest role coming as assistant director on several Toei shows, including Maple Town Monogatari, Akuma-kun and Mōretsu Atarō. However, most American anime fans' first exposure to him will have been his work on Sailor Moon. Ikuhara directed several episodes of the legendary magical girl show, starting with Episode 6, "Protect the Melody of Love: Usagi Plays Cupid."
During the second season, Sailor Moon R, Ikuhara would become the series' director, taking over from Junichi Sato. He also directed Sailor Moon R: The Movie, cementing him as a visionary director with an eye for impressive and memorable visuals. However, Ikuhara got annoyed with the lack of creative control Toei offered him and eventually left the company. After this, he would join up with several other creatives to form the art collective Be-Papas.
Be-Papas consisted of Ikuhara, shojo artist Chiho Saito, Neon Genesis Evangelion animation supervisor Shinya Hasegawa, former Sailor Moon writer Yōji Enokido and producer Yuuichirou Okuro. The name, according to Okuro, was a reference to the group growing up by stepping out on their own.
Be-Papas would work on the legendary manga and anime Revolutionary Girl Utena. The manga came out in 1996 with the anime soon following in 1997, and both quickly cemented themselves as cult classics. Ikuhara took the director role for the anime, leading to the show's unique visual style. He would also reprise this role for the feature film, Adolescence of Utena in 1999, which presented a different take on the themes and story of Utena and showed Ikuhara's ability to create moving and symbolic sequences.
After the Adolescence of Utena's release, Be-Papas disbanded -- but this was far from the end for Ikuhara. In 2001 he would team up with Seinosuke Ito and Chiho Saito to release the manga The World Exists for Me. He would also write the serialized novel Nokemono to Hanayome which ran between 2006-2017, and worked on several other projects covering everything from manga to music.
In 2011, Ikuhara returned to the director's chair to direct the supernatural mystery series Penguindrum, which he created and also co-wrote with Takayo Ikami. The series will be re-released later this year in the form of a remastered, updated and re-edited film titled Re:cycle of Penguindrum. Aside from that, he has directed and worked on several anime shows in the interim. In 2015 he directed Yurikuma Arashi, a series based on a manga he wrote. Then in 2019, Ikuhara created and co-directed Sarazanmai, an anime about students who turn into kappas.
However, Ikuhara isn't just known for his creative work. He is famous for being extremely open in interviews, often giving clever, funny or surreal answers to questions. He's also known for his eccentric fashion choices; an image of him and Nagano Mamoru cosplaying as Sailor Venus and Mars is frequently reposted by fans. This is on top of his habit of changing his pseudonym depending on his current project, making Bonsoir Ikuhara just one in a long line of name changes.
Kunihiko Ikuhara is a legendary anime creator who has rightfully earned a legion of dedicated fans. From his early work to the crowning achievement that was Revolutionary Girl Utena, Ikuhara has shown how versatile anime is as a storytelling and artistic medium. Hopefully, Re:cycle of Penguindrum and his upcoming projects get Ikuhara even more attention from fans in North America and across the world.