Project Launch: On Anime ‘Writing’

UrobuchiGen
Urobuchi Gen in Tainan (a city in the southwest of Taiwan) promoting Thunderbolt Fantasy. (image source)

In his 10,000 word interview in the December 2014 edition of Newtype, Gen Urobuchi pointed out that a significant number of anime fans had a mistaken impression about what anime writers do. Namely, they tend to believe that the people credited for ‘writing’ (as series composers or script writers) were responsible for ‘whatever happens’ in an anime series. Although he was referring to the Japanese anime fandom, this is arguably even more prevalent amongst overseas anime fans. Everywhere we go to discuss the shows we’re watching, be it a forum, a personal blog, or even aggregate fansites that pay writers to cover shows for them, we’re likely to come across individuals who attribute ‘great stories’ or ‘bad writing’ solely to the writer.

The truth is that, most of the time, what such critics refer to—whether good or bad—should not be attributed to the writer. The terms and phrases I’ve often seen thrown around about prominent writers, such as “Urobutcher,” “Mari Okada’s excesses” or “Ugh, it’s Hiroyuki Yoshino again, that’s another adaptation ruined,” tend to be used to describe aspects of a show that these writers either were not responsible for at all, or that they contributed to as just one of the core staff. This became increasingly obvious to me as I read more and more interviews with directors and writers, and listened to more and more radio shows and episode commentaries. It has even been frustrating at times, as I and others like me have struggled to try and point out these misconceptions that seem to dominate the fandom.1

When SHIROBAKO started airing in the latter part of 2014, I got pretty excited because I thought that these misconceptions would soon be cleared up. Imagine my shock to see it flare up again with Okada’s latest ‘original’, Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans. This really gave me pause, and made me want to try something a bit more systematic to address this issue. I’ve long dabbled with translating interviews, spent a good year or so tracking down, reading about and then summarising Urobuchi’s involvement in Aldnoah.Zero, and played with the idea of using SHIROBAKO to go into more depth about anime creation on this blog. But more reading soon convinced me that I was better off staying away from the animation process, which, thankfully, is already quite well covered.2

Yoshino
You all know that SHIROBAKO‘s Maitake was based on Yoshino, right?

Hence, I decided that I should focus on that which interests me most: the ‘writing’. I’ll be doing this mostly through a mixture of interview translations and editorials. The topics of the latter will range from the general—examining the process by which original anime is created and then written, or the steps by which other kinds of media are adapted for the screen—to dealing with planning and production timelines for specific series, as I did for Aldnoah.Zero. Kevin Cirugeda from ANN has stated that he will eventually cover writing and directing (quite possibly in the next edition of his column), but I hope to go into a little more depth than he will, to help illustrate what actually goes on as far as anime screenwriting is concerned.

I do not claim to be an expert on any of this. Everything that I will cover is gleaned not from actual interaction with the people involved (with one minor exception), but rather from the interviews I have read, the radio shows I have listened to, and the BD/DVD extras I have devoured over the years. Additionally, my memory may be fuzzy, and there may be things that I have misunderstood. As such, if there are any mistakes or misconceptions that you notice in my posts, please let me know, so that I may edit them to better reflect the reality.3

Given that I normally post once a week and intend to keep writing about other series as well, I will aim to post at least one project post every fortnight.

Stuff I’m looking for as part of this project:

  • Urobuchi Gen’s “hello world” interview in Newtype, December 2014. I only have about half of it, and would really like to see the entire interview.
  • Any Psycho-Pass interviews that haven’t been translated yet.
  • Any Aldnoah.Zero interviews that I do not have, but especially the one that has this snippet. Unfortunately, I don’t know which publication it appeared in, or if it’s even real, though the image suggests that it should be… But here’s a rundown of all the interviews/articles I’ve collected so far, with the other ones I’m after also marked out.
  • And any interviews about Wandering Son, AnoHana and Your Lie in April

If you have anything on the writers or directors of the series mentioned above, please let me know. I’d be happy to trade a translation or comparable interview for them. Additionally, if there are other series or interviews that you think I should look at, please drop me a note as well, and I’ll see if I can slot them in. I shall begin tomorrow, however, by comparing how animated TV series are created in the US versus Japan. Look forward to it!

Okada


  1. I’ve personally had such experiences with Macross Frontier and Aldnoah.Zero. But the most prominent target appears to be Okada Mari
  2. In fact, just a few weeks ago, Kevin Cirugeda started systematically going through a typical anime’s ending credits on Anime News Network, adding another good resource to the growing pile of references for English-speaking fans. 
  3. And if you know any people actually involved in the industry who’d be willing to read and check over this kind of information, I’d very much appreciate their insights! 

About karice
MAG fan, amateur translator and political scientist in training. I also love musicals, photography, travel and believe it or not, the game of cricket. よろしく!

7 Responses to Project Launch: On Anime ‘Writing’

  1. Frog-kun says:

    I’m hyped!

    Like

  2. Raven says:

    I think broad attribution is a natural part in most form of media fandom, even if fans (theoretically) should’ve known better. When you want to make a comment on something, it’s always easier to refer to the most visible and well-known name as a shorthand for ‘the show’ or ‘the writing team’. It’s definitely not a good thing though, and I really like the idea of this project!

    (also, yeah, Okada’s case is a really glaring one. I couldn’t think of many other writer in any form of contemporary creative media who were as typecast as she is within the English-speaking anime fandom).

    Like

    • karice says:

      Hi! Thanks for dropping by and commenting – even though I probably would have done this project for myself anyway, it’s really motivating to see interest in this subject!

      Oh, I agree. However, I do find that we’re more likely to attribute correctly when the shows in question and thus any related interviews/extra material etc are in a language we speak. So one of my main objectives is to get more material translated. But the key change that everyone can make even in the absence of translated interviews for a specific series is to understand that the director should be considered the showrunner in most cases, and that the writer is just one of the team that is helping him/her realise the vision for the show.

      That’s what my next post was about.

      Like

  3. shagamu says:

    I just stumbled upon this blog, and I love this series of posts about anime writing. I, too, get upset when I see people blame the head writer for everything they don’t like about a show. My impression is that, because American TV is so writer-driven, to the point where head writers are now called “showrunners” and have final say on every single creative decision, Western fans tend to think anime works the same way, when it’s actually a director-driven medium, just like film.

    As far as I know, the director can even rewrite a whole script from scratch if he wants to, which is probably why every Yoshiyuki Tomino show has that, let’s call it “distinctive” kind of dialogue, no matter who’s credited for the scripts.

    Like

    • karice says:

      Thanks ^^, it’s been fun, if tough, but I’m really glad I’m not the only one who’s noticed the problem. At first, I was really puzzled about it, especially given how we focus on directors when it comes to Western film—I haven’t really followed US TV much, so ‘showrunner’ wasn’t in my vocabulary until I started looking into this. But it only took me a few hours to realise precisely what you’ve pointed out:

      that, because American TV is so writer-driven, to the point where head writers are now called “showrunners” and have final say on every single creative decision, Western fans tend to think anime works the same way, when it’s actually a director-driven medium, just like film.

      That’s why my post after this one was about comparing the Avatar TV series and anime.

      I’ve never seen a Tomino show, so I’m not sure what you mean by distinctive dialogue… I’m not actually sure most of us can tell that particular lines of dialogue definitely come from particular people—as Oguro Yuuichirou pointed out, we need to know the screenwriter’s work far more intimately than most fans will ever have the chance to do. Furthermore, most scripts will have the director’s contributions included anyway, because the screenwriter works with the director (at minimum) to develop what will be covered in the episode before actually sitting down to write the script.

      But I have come across series directors that have reworked scripts (usually because the script was approved much earlier in the production process and they’ve changed settings since (e.g. Aldnoah.Zero)). I’ve also heard of one director that changed a lot from the scripts…but was fired because the person actually running the show had wanted him to follow the scripts. That’s rare—usually, producers have control over hiring/firing, and they’d usually leave creative decision making to the director—but as far as I know, it depends on the project. So I can believe that Tomino does rework his scripts.

      Like

  4. Pingback: Masterpost: On Anime ‘Writing’ Project | HOT CHOCOLATE IN A BOWL

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