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It’s been almost half a year since Studio Ghibli founder Hayao Miyazaki announced his retirement from animation direction, leaving a empty seat at the top of Japan’s pile of anime talent. Miyazaki himself has even voiced his concerns about whether or not his juniors in the industry will be able to replicate the results that Studio Ghibli achieved when he was at the helm.

With the medium in a state of uncertainty, Japanese telecom provider NTT Docomo asked fans which director they expected to pick up the banner of the Japanese animation industry. Their surprising answer? Hayao Miyazaki’s son, Goro.

To those who don’t regularly follow the anime industry, this may seem like the obvious choice. After all, doesn’t it stand to reason that the son of the anime’s most successful director has probably inherited some measure of the life philosophy, not to mention technical skills, of his father?

The reality, though, is far less simple. For most of his life, the younger Miyazaki was not involved in animation production, and the greatest success on his resume so far is from serving as designer and director not of a movie, but of the Studio Ghibli museum in Tokyo. The relationship between father and son has been regularly characterized as strained, and Goro’s directorial debut, 2006’s Tales from Earthsea, was reportedly made without any input or directorial support from Hayao.

The film was a critical and commercial flop almost from the moment it hit screens. Goro’s second (and so far most recent) turn as director came with From Up on Poppy Hill in 2011, for which his acclaimed father provided the script. The general consensus is that the film was a great improvement over Goro’s first directorial effort, but still nowhere near the quality of the films Ghibli put out during the elder Miyazaki’s heyday, even when he wasn’t the one sitting in the director’s chair.

From Up on Poppy Hill

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Nevertheless, nearly one in four poll respondents picked Goro Miyazaki as the individual they expect to lead the industry in coming years. His 2,136 votes put him far ahead of the second-place finisher, Evangelion’s Hideaki Anno, who received only 1,411.

It’s been a long time since Anno has directed anything other than installments in his highly personal Evangelion franchise, but his background in animating and recent stint voicing the lead in personal friend Hayao Miyazaki’s swansong The Wind Rises both attest to his comprehensive understanding of the myriad components that go into the finished anime product, something critical in a successful director.

▼ Anno, seen speaking to a class of elementary school children

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Anno and Goro Miyazaki were the only directors to receive more than 1,000 votes, but third-place choice Mamoru Hosoda’s artistic stylings are arguably closer to Hayao Miyazaki’s than either the legend’s son’s or friend’s. Hosoda favors stories of children in lush rural landscapes, as seen in his films Summer Wars and Wolf Children.

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Mamoru Oshii landed in the fourth slot. The former seminary student’s highly philosophical works have included Angel’s Egg, Ghost in the Shell, and the surprisingly deep Urusei Yatsura: Beautiful Dreamer. Oshii hasn’t directed an anime since 2008’s The Sky Crawlers, though, and his current project, a live-action adaptation of robot police story Patlabor, means it’s likely to be a while before he returns to a completely animated feature.

The Sky Crawlers

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Rounding out the top five is Katushiro Otomo, best known as the creator, original manga artist, and director of Akira. Otomo isn’t twiddling his thumbs while waiting to see if or how the proposed Hollywood version of Akira pulls itself out of the quagmire it has worked itself into. Instead, he’s kept busy by recently directing a segment of the 2013 anthology Short Piece.

Combustible, the section of Short Piece directed by Otomo

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One thing all five of the top-rated directors have in common is an ability to reach audiences outside of the hardcore anime fan demographic. This may in fact be one reason why Goro Miyazaki topped the list by such a large margin despite his lack of proven hit making ability, especially when compared to the directors directly below him. Stop a random person on the street in Japan, ask them to name an anime director, and 95 percent will tell you, “Hayao Miyazaki.” Ask them to name another, and someone who’s still working, to boot, and you’ll see a lot more head scratching.

Hayao Miyazaki has transcended anime in the same way that Walt Disney transcended cartoons. He’s a household name with an undeniable cultural impact on Japan, and by association his studio, and his son who works for it, occupy a spot in people’s minds, even if they aren’t particularly passionate anime fans. Considering the lack of anything better than a lukewarm response to Goro’s films so far, and yet his overwhelming choice as the director people expect great things from, it’s hard to ignore the possibility that those polled simply couldn’t think of anyone else when trying to reconcile the contradictions.

Goro will get another chance to live up to those expectations, as well as step a bit further away from his father’s giant-sized shadow, with his upcoming adaptation of Ronia the Robber, which as a television series should help to reduce the direct comparisons between it and the works of the elder Miyazaki, who spent the last decades of his career directing feature films exclusively.

The rest of the prominent directors chosen in the poll were:

6. Makoto Shinkai (Voices of a Distant Star, The Garden of Words)
7. Yoshiyuki Tomino (Mobile Suit Gundam, Aura Battler Dunbine)
8. Gisaburo Sugii (Street Fighter II: The Animated Move, Arashi no Yoru ni)
9. Hiroyuki Morita (The Cat Returns, Bokurano)
10. Goro Taniguchi (Planates, Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion)
11. Seiji Mizushima (Fullmetal Alchemist, The Slayers: Next)
12. Tsutomu Mizushima (Girls und Panzer)
13. Akiyuki Shinbo (Puella Magi Madoka Magica)
14. Yutaka Yamamoto (Fractale)
15. Keiichi Hara (Crayon Shin-chan, Doraemon)
16. Hiromasa Yonebayashi (The Secret World of Arrietty)
17. Junichi Sato (Aria)
18. Tatsuyuki Nagai (Princess Tutu)
19. Hiroyuki Okiura (A Letter to Momo)

See anyone up there you’re especially fond of and would tip for the anime throne?

Sources: Peachy, Goo
Top image: Impassioned Cinema
Insert images: The Film Review, Eva Geeks, WordPress (1, 2), Twitch Film