So…who ‘writes’ an anime series? (#1)

SHIROBAKO, an anime series about anime production, tells us a lot about what goes on behind the scenes before the bread and butter of our favourite past time grace our screens each season. Based on where we are at in the show, however, one thing that it probably won’t be covering is screenwriting. And since that seems to be one of the least understood areas of anime production in the West — at least, going by the comments that viewers make season after season blaming this or that writer for ‘bad writing’ and ‘plot holes’ — I decided to look into it a little more deeply. And what I found has backed up the impression I got from all those interviews and commentaries I looked at for Macross Frontier: a fairly large number of ‘key staff’ can contribute to what we call the ‘writing’ of a series.

And here, from a Column from the Anime Style website, are the comments of a writer that goes into this a bit further.

Edit (April, 2016): Anime Style is one of the most informative anime magazines that I have ever read, and Oguro Yūichirō is the writer behind it. Each issue has 15-30+ page specials on two of three series that he has taken interest in, and the interviews he conducts with key staff like directors and writers go into a lot of depth about materials like scripts, storyboards, settings, key animations etc etc that he is given the opportunity to look at. The two issues I have bought have specials on SHIROBAKO and Sound! Euphonium, and the latter includes the most informative interview I have ever read on ‘anime writing’.

Anime Style column: The agony and pain of Anime
Author: Oguro Yūichirō, Writer
Column #25: The problems of data collection for screenwriters

Recently, I’ve been helping out with the ‘literature’ for a certain anime series. Though it’s not like I’m slacking off at my real job. From morning to evening, I’m hard at work at the office, then I go for production meetings, after which I again return to the office to continue my work into the night. It’s like I’m leading a double life—with each passing day, a normal life seems further and further away.

By ‘literature’, what we mean is the collection of scripts/screenplays. The director of the series in question is also doing the series composition, so it’s like I’m helping him out. ‘Why is an editor doing that?’ Well, I’ll explain one day.

Sometimes, I’m asked why I don’t really do data collection for screenwriting. Certainly, when compared to animators and animation directors, I don’t really collect data. One of the reasons for this is that, to those on the outside, the work of a screen/scriptwriter is pretty unclear. In the anime industry, it’s not unusual for the content of the final draft of the script to change completely when it’s storyboarded. Alternatively, in the lead-up to that final script, the director and series compositor (even the producers) may have already added their ideas to the mix, so it’s difficult to draw an exact line around what the work of the screenwriter is.

There have been many times where I’ve complimented a screenwriter on a scene, only to have them say that they hadn’t written it. I’ve also gone and collected the screenplays for a series that has a lot of famous lines, only to find that all the lines I remembered weren’t actually in the scripts produced by the main writer. I was speechless when I first found that out.

Kamichu!, written by Kurata Hideyuki

Someone once told me: “If you really want to collect screenwriting material, then rather than just the final work, you should read the screenplays. If you can, you should collect the first draft, the final draft and the final work and compare them all.” That is certainly right. We should really should check all of those, if we are fullbent on researching it.

If we’re talking about the work of Aikawa Shō or Konaka Chiaki, both of whom have strong individual styles, then you might be able to figure out just by watching: “I see, the final work turned out like this, but that’s probably how they wrote it.” Or if you know what the director is like, then, as you watch, you might find yourself thinking: “This bit comes from the director; this bit’s from the screenwriter.” It’s a bit like key frames that have been checked — what’s the work of the key animator and what’s the work of the animation supervisor? There aren’t many works where you can actually do that.

However, if one person is responsible for writing all of the scripts, such as Kurata Hideyuki with Kamichu! or Ōkouchi Ichirou with Planetes, then you can assume that that person is one of the people at the centre of the series, so collecting those materials is quite a safe bet.

Dezaki Osamu’s The Snow Queen

Recently, reading through quite a number of scripts for the DVD release for The Snow Queen was quite a thrilling experience. As fans are probably aware, Director Dezaki Osamu changes the contents of the scripts he works on. In the case of The Snow Queen, the contents were certainly changed at the storyboarding stage, but they weren’t just simple changes. Rather, it was like he used the scripts as a spring board for the leaps he made at the storyboarding stage. He grappled with the script and bounded off from there. It was really interesting reading those kinds of changes.

Thanks to this work helping out with the ‘literature’, I’ve become a little bit more interested in scripts and screenplays. What I want to know is the process of how a script/screenplay evolves into a final draft, and then into the final product itself.


p.s. The blog of Jonathan Clements is probably one of the best English-language sources of stories from the anime pre-production and production processes on the web. Not only has he worked in translating, voice acting and as a dubbing director, he’s also read hundreds of books and essays on the subject in the process of writing his own books on the medium. So if you’re interested, but can’t read much Japanese, I suggest having a look at what he’s written. -karice

p.p.s. Is screenwriting different in the West? Not really, at least according to Craig Turk, a screenwriter for The Good Wife. You’ll need a Slate account to read the transcript, but the podcast is still available for free here.

About karice
MAG fan, translator, and localization project manager. I also love musicals, travel and figure skating!

5 Responses to So…who ‘writes’ an anime series? (#1)

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