Year in Review: Working Hard Writing

Urobuchi Gen has a breakout year in 2011 between Fate/Zero and Madoka, but we already know Butch is the kind of writer that now more people have come to know. Beats trying to watch Blassreiter or Phantom of the Inferno lol (not a knock, just the truth…I still need to play the game version of the latter). However I want to talk about Okada Mari’s work some more.

Okada is responsible for at least four notable shows this year: Fractale, Hanasaku Iroha, Anohana, and Hourou Musuko. I think it is in Hourou Musuko that her writing really came off well. Given how much that deviated from the original manga, there may be enough space to infer that her style carried a relatively brisk adaptation (Note that it is directed by the director of Fate/Zero, which is probably no coincidence) into the animation medium with a lot of punch. In fact, there’s just something magical about the whole experience. It’s like, laced nostalgia or something potent. And I don’t even care about the whole genderbending aspect at all; the supporting cast of characters are all wonderful and the chemistry is well balanced, dramatic and entertaining enough to keep things moving without getting dragged down by the weight of its seriousness.

I find it so wonderful that if I had to list my top 2011 anime, it would be between that, Madoka, and Steins;Gate. It had me, actually, at the OP.

Hanasaku Iroha is, more relevantly, a Okada original. I think the story is really basically about the nature of work and career in the life of, in some mainline, culturally accepted sense, a woman. However I think it’s important to see how there’s this double talk of sorts in light of what is happening to Ohana versus her mom. I think it is right that so many people hated on Satsuki but I think she is the one thing that makes the story at all credible–it isn’t about societal expectation or doing what society think is right. It’s about actually having that heart of a mom. I mean that is ultimately the issue; people cannot be held to uniform standards when it comes to parenting, or so it would be the framework that I interpret the story.

The career side of HanaIro is probably less thorny but just as tricky. On one hand you have Sui doing her thing at the end of the series, and on the other hand you have someone like Satsuki who pursuits it without regards to the other women in her life. I think it might just want to paint an image where there is conflict and there is no harmony, but people are still able to prioritize what is important in their lives and resolves things in respect to that. It is here that I can see some people raise a stink about its anti-feminist message. It really doesn’t bother me: if I was a feminist I would not be a fan of Japanese animation at all.

The truth is, it becomes more a cultural contextualization problem. If we can either power through or sidestep that, Hanasaku Iroha is a fairly sharp series, perhaps mired in the typical, 26-episode style of presentation that had to feature the backstory of everybody. But make no mistake; it is about a woman’s work. And that is an empowering message in a society where women have always been treated poorly than men.

It made me wonder a couple things: how much of HanaIro was taken out of a page from her life? And what was it like working on that and working on Fractale at around the same time? LOL. As we know, Fractale is the brainchild of Yamakan, cultural critic Hiroki Azuma (who authored that Database Animal nonsense that I refer to all the time) and Okada. I think it’s unfortunate that it didn’t end up doing well, but it makes you wonder what went on between the three of them. You would think that there’s probably potential for something great. I guess it doesn’t always work out that way.

There was also Anohana. It is a very charming and bittersweet story featuring likable characters despite the somewhat predictable path of character development they were on. It is also a little way too sappy, and unfortunately (and ironically) something I find difficult to remember 6 months later. The smiling-crying Menma-face and the sexually-charged nicknames (MANMA wwwww) of our cast of characters aside, Anohana leaves me little to go on besides to wonder how many other references to Forget-me-Not it can squeeze in that 12-episode package. Like Okada’s other stories, it is a very tightly-woven package. I mean if we can boil HanaIro down into the same size it will probably have the same overall format. Both shows have a fairly “slow” segment just after the half-way point in which the story builds up to the dramatic conclusion, and Anohana remedies that drastically thanks to its limited length.

Looking back, I think again the TV anime packing issue is still the one most consistently problematic thing for me when I poke at these works at the big picture level. Urobuchi’s style, in contrast, makes tighter packages–think of it like a HBO mini series–for the same format. Still, it makes me wonder how much you could fit in that 22-minute package every week, with enough of a build-up and release, and keep enough suspense for next week. It cannot be that easy.

Yet if you think about it, given how prolific Okada is in 2011, for whatever the reason, she is probably batting above average overall. I am someone who typically puts down the contribution of writers to quality of TV anime narratives, because I think in general fans elevate that aspect beyond its due worth, but certainly writers (especially people who come up with this stuff from scratch) are important parts to the creative core that brings every anime to their inevitable conclusion. Between them and the directors, the fate of many anime is in their hands even before the horse is out of the gate, and if anything 2011 is definitely the year that demonstrated this.

Something to leave you with: Okada wrote 9 episodes of Simoun and worked on True Tears (both Nishimura projects). She is credited for series composition for Bantorra.  This is somehow NOT a coincidence either, I believe. To go back to the same baseball analogy, I’d safely say she’s batting the proverbial 300. And not entirely a coincidence, in 2012, Okada is thus far tapped for the new Kenshin Shin Kyoto-hen remake,  Black Rock Shooter TV, Aquarion EVOL and the AKB48 anime. Oh boy! I’d say that’s about 300, how about you?

PS. Meeting Nagai Tatsuyuki and Tanaka Masayoshi at AX this year remains one of the highlights of con life for me in 2011. It was wonderful to see some of the people responsible for all that Taiga mania.

PPS. I’m not sure why I’m going with Japanese name order in this post, but oh well.

5 Responses to “Year in Review: Working Hard Writing”

  • 78

    Shows written by Okada were hit or miss for me, but I’m not sure how much of the blame *or* credit falls on her for that. Hanasaku I dropped a third of the way in, while Fractale I finished, and liked better than some, but was still pretty disappointed by.

    On the other hand, AnoHana and Hourou are two of the masterpieces of recent years for me. I’ll take a 50/50 record if the two hits are among the best shows I’ve ever seen, so by that reckoning Okada Mari is pure gold. Besides, I’m just going to blame Fractale’s failures on Yamakan (because it’s more fun that way), and Hanasaku I dropped because I wasn’t interested in where the character’s relationships were going.

    Going back a little earlier, she’s been involved with other titles I really liked before she became a “name” that otaku knew in 2011. Otome Youkai Zakuro, Kodomo no Jikan, Canaan all seem to have had heavy input from her… not to mention Toradora. I do not follow “staff” nearly so much as I pay attention to seiyuu and studios, not because staff aren’t as or more important but because they vary more and it’s harder to keep them straight. But her name is one of those I’m always going to perk up at in the future, alongside types like Shinbou or Urobuchi or Nagai Tatsuyuki.

    “PPS. I’m not sure why I’m going with Japanese name order in this post, but oh well.”
    Because flipping is obnoxious.

  • omo

    It’s harder to follow staff, IMO, because their contribution to the work is not often something of a discernible quantity. It’s not like how Sakuga otaku can point to a scene and said so-and-so did the key animations for these cuts. And of course seiyuu are pretty much locked into what they do, short of the weird cases where Aoi drew a sketch of Madoka’s outfit or Kobayashi Yuu drawing the sponsor card to Zetsubo Sensei or something.

    The role of the writer is particular because a lot of the time episode writers just write whatever the series composition person has created, and it’s kind of like a storyboard: sometimes the head writer may have developed a lot of the stuff already; other times it is very bare bones.

    I think HanaIro and AnoHana are probably the best indicators of Okada’s ability in this capacity mainly because she has to create a lot of stuff from scratch in those two cases. But I guess for you that would still be a 50/50 win:lose ratio, which is golden!

  • omo

    I probably should also remedy, among other mistakes in my post, that Okada is tapped for the Black Rock Shooter TV series airing next season. That is notable enough to warrant something more than ninja edits.

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