Anime, Writers: The I Can’t Remember Version

You can skip to the bold letters if you want the TL;DR version.

If I remember correctly:

So there was this con and I was there. There was a panel at the con, and I was in the panel room, as I sat on the right side of the room, towards the front. That panel featured two or three guests from Japan who worked on some anime that was being promoted at the time, and it was a fairly big show. One of them was the writer for the show. And this all took place some years back, maybe before 2009, I honestly can’t recall.

If you have ever been to one of those things, things being guest of honor panels, you would expect most of the panel to be Q&A, as was this one. People queued up at the mics towards the front, and I can’t remember if it had 2 mics or 1; it may have had 2. The one panel moderator took questions from both sides like a round-robin load-balancer, in that case.

I wish I had a name for this writer-guest, it would have made writing it up so much easier. The grey matter isn’t cooperating, and I can narrow it down some, but the internet lists don’t have the right name. I can’t remember much else, besides that there was some tricky detail to that show in the writing and someone did ask how that person came up with the idea.

As for a different name, what I am trying to say has to do with how some people criticize about Mari Okada. I’m fine with free-market exchange of thoughts and critical thinking about Okada and Lupin the Third. I just want to shed some light in terms of how it could possibly went down so we attribute praise and blame accordingly, or at least, in a less-wrong fashion when we could. Let’s first recognize unless we are privy to how it exactly went down every time, we can’t really say, and we are not really in position to know for sure unless we have the facts. So the next best thing fan could do is either:

  1. shut up, or
  2. find out how the typical industry practices are and extrapolate and guess.

I like #1 a lot but I guess we have no choice here, right?

At that fuzzily-remembered panel, the writer-panelist explained his role in the overall project. He was the “head” writer. He had to work with the core creative folks–director, guys who storyboard, whatever, I can’t remember if it was a novel adaptation or what–and come up with the overall plan. And then he worked with some writers who banged out the detail scripts for each episode, by assigning portions of the story to them. He also wrote some of the scripts himself. I think for that particular project he wrote almost the entire thing himself, but he mentioned that he has written for other shows where he was one of the hired hands who just did specific episodes as according to specification. I also believe he had some supervisory tasks after the episode scripts were done, just to go over and make changes for continuity and other reasons.

“Series composition” is often the title credited for this role. There are also other lead writing type titles (series concept, scenario, etc) but you get the idea.

I have another name: Tatsuo Sato. This guy is probably best known for being the director (and the guy responsible) of the Nadesico TV show and movie. I recall hearing about Nadesico’s writers from Sato himself (at a con, of course), who basically said they had a lot of talented writers who just wrote great things that he took wholesale and left them as is. I think the episode previews betrayed it as much. In this capacity I think Sato acts (like most of the time for directors) as the guy who coordinates the scripts. He applied them as he saw fit. Compared to his ongoing Mouretsu Pirates, the approach is somewhat more conservative as you see Sato penning more episodes himself.

Basically my point here is that what the writer’s input in any given anime project varies greatly, and going by one name or one title isn’t going to be very helpful. When Hideyuki Kurata showed up in vintage form in Kannagi episode 7, you know he’s the guy writing it. But could you tell he was the “series composition” credit for Kaminomi or Dragon Crisis? Actually his ardent fans probably can, but not most of us. You can kind of tell it in OreImo but that’s a stretch (I still believe Kurata is the X-factor that turned a trash anime to a chart-topper). Most of the time he is just playing it safe, adopting the source material, but sometimes Kurata shines, because he is given the latitude to do so. Besame mucho, for example.

If we want to look at Okada, and why you like or dislike her, it seems a lot more sensible to deeply nitpick the original works she wrote over the adaptations, like (1) Fractale (which I imagine she just took cues from Hiroki Azuma and Yutaka Yamamoto) or (2) Hanasaku Iroha (which seems almost like her brainchild) or even (3) AnoHana (which seems more Tatsuyuki Nagai than anything), except that is still a questionable gauge as I parenthetically expressed. When it comes to Okada’s Fujiko, I’m thinking case #3 applies–it’s way more Sayo Yamamoto than anyone else; perhaps even more than Monkey Punch. In contrast, I think Okada hammed it up in her adaptation of Hourou Musuko, who is credited to write and lead the script effort, if you want a real point of criticism. I enjoyed the show, but I imagine that tickled the manga fans.

Kind of a deja vu here.

With more BRS, AKB0048 and Aquarion EVOL  under our collective belts, care we re-evaluate our initial assumptions? I thought BRS was pretty much spot-on in terms of the writing being a work of interpreting the lyrics by Okada, except people kept confusing it with the original OAV and ignore the obvious connection to BRS’s song lyrics. And it was something if you don’t “get” you won’t enjoy (in that sense very much like Book of Bantorra and Simoun, both shows Okada worked on). I don’t really know what to think about AKB0048, as not enough content is yet available to decide on the writing. Aquarion EVOL is awfully like Hanasaku Iroha’s pretentious tension, with her signature ups and downs, if you take a look at it from a structural perspective (and she’s “series composition” on both, naturally). In fact I’d guess that the two feel as different as they are on the screenplay level because Okada wrote all of Hanasaku Iroha, and only a third of EVOL.

[Times like this I’m actually very happy that the average anime script give voice actors sufficient room to play their roles in drastically different manners, even if in terms of the chemistry, the same writer tend to deploy the same tricks across different works. Or else Andy W. Hole would turn into a balut.]

If I want to nitpick on Okada’s writing, I would totally attack the way she creates dramatic tension in the script. Just saying. And at any lower level/higher resolution of detail in terms of nitpicking I will have to go bust out episodic credit lists, and I don’t really have any motivation to do so (ie., I think Simoun episodes 15-16 are freaking awesome). If you want to venture out on your own, that’ll be an educational experience I’m sure. For example you can look at how Book of Bantorra is divided up, and report back what the end result of collating the first four episodes did.

Maybe people should start criticizing someone easier to identify by his flourishes, like Yousuke Kuroda. You know, just for practice.

PS. I recall some writeup at ANN that explained screen writing for anime in detail and in a more exacting manner rather than my usual meandering style. Anyone got a link to it? I don’t remember/cannot find it anymore.

6 Responses to “Anime, Writers: The I Can’t Remember Version”

  • Fencedude

    If I may be so bold, would an accurate tl;dr of your tl;dr be: “Making sweeping assumptions about an anime writer is a good way to be wrong with confidence”?

    Also, relevant example?

  • otou-san

    The way you describe the head writer or “series composition” credit is more or less how I suspected it’d be. Sometimes you can get a feel from the credits of each episode for the level of control, but even that is guesswork because “amount of guidance given on this particular script that the head writer didn’t write” is not typically listed in the credits. :3

    I don’t have super strong feelings about Okada one way or the other, but she’s worked on a variety of projects and her resume has expanded greatly in the past year, so that tells me a couple things:

    1. As you say, we may or may not even be able to attribute our displeasures to her. People are more than happy to ignore her input on Fractale because Azuma and (especially) Yamakan are easier punching bags, but things get more selective when you expand from there.
    2. Someone more important than a stream-watching english-speaking aniblogger (hint:could be anyone) apparently thinks she’s doing ok, with all the work she’s done for a variety of producers and with numerous directors and studios.

    • omo

      Having read people like Nisio Isin, Nasu and Urobuchi (as translated, so take it with a grain of salt), your #2 point is taken equally across the table, that quite frankly good writing in anime is still a scarce thing.

      But more importantly, just by having Okada in your credit list you can at least get the attention of certain otaku, for better or worse, and maybe there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

  • DiGiKerot

    So, are you mentioning Nisio Isin, Nasu and Urobuchi in a positive or negative sense there? ^^;

    To get to the crux of the post, it’s not like credit – good or bad – is always properly accredited to the right members of staff within English-speaking fandom (myself included) even when excluding writers. I mean, mentally keeping the differentiation of labour between Directors, Series Directors, Episode Directors and Storyboardists on a show is difficult in itself unless you put a fair amount of effort into keeping up with these things.

    Properly accrediting writers is doubly difficult for various reasons. Coming from a Western standpoint, a large part of this is probably the generally propagated perception that Television production is very much a screenwriters medium, as opposed to a directors one, and that writers hold a far more significant amount of sway in the overall product. With anime, the water in these regards seems to be rather more muddied.

    Otherwise, there’s the whole issue of the language barrier. For a lot of shows there tends to be an awful lot of material – in the form of interviews and supplementary articles written by the staff – that can make it far clearer who on the staff held the most sway in terms of the direction of the show takes. Unfortunately, that all tends to stay in Japanese (particularly these days with no English NewType and LE DVD/BD releases predominantly being the domain of Aniplex or Nozomi).

    Which is why I can’t really get too worked up with people perhaps blaming Okuda for things that probably aren’t her fault.

    Saying that, for the most part, I think you are right in that you can make a lot of assumptions on this stuff coming from a slightly educated point of view and experience of the staffs prior work. Well, for the most part, anyway – having Kawamori involved in anything is a bit of a wildcard (recent Okuda works aside, I honestly can’t tell how much of Macross Frontier is Kawamori, and how much of it is Yoshino).

    I think you’re probably right on most of your calls here as well – the issues that people seem to be having with the content of Lupin strike me as being the sort tonal and stylistic choices that’ll have come from higher up the chain than what a writer dealing with the shows minutiae would have significant control over. Ditto with Fractales issues, mixed messaging and all.

    (Also, agreed about OreImo, though it amuses me that the most typically Kurata feeling episode is probably the “anime adaptation” one that tends to get the most flak. Also, despite having a basis in the manga, there’s totally two or three episodes of Kaminomi that totally betrayed who was writing it).

    • omo

      Good, you addressed the one thing I didn’t feel equipped to talk about: people’s perception about writing for TV in the west.

      There’s a larger framework in which creative people generate ideal and realize them in anime, which while can differ greatly from one production to the next, generally provides the baseline understanding of why something in a show is the way it is.

      I think we’re just scratching at that here.

      As for Kaminomi, yeah, there are a couple episodes that are, well, LOL. I think it’s partly why he’s still one of my favorite anime production person.

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