AnimeFest: Autographs and Sato Dai on Anime Writing

Tip for having a relaxing holiday: do not organise to give a lecture two days after you return. Especially if you have to write it from scratch. In any case, 10 days after AnimeFest in Dallas ended, I’ve finally found the time to finish this little overview.

artwork by Christina Chang

Like just about every other Yuri!!! on ICE fan who could afford it, I decided to go to AnimeFest months ago, after we heard that the show’s creators would be there. They’ve since appeared at numerous other conventions, but this relatively small convention with a surprisingly big guest roster was the first to announce that they’d secured Yamamoto Sayo and Kubo Mitsurou. And once anime character designer Hiramatsu Tadashi was added to the mix, it was impossible to pass up. Thankfully, a friend of mine had already booked her place at the con, and on August 16, 2017, the four of us roomies landed in Dallas and met for the first time, excited (and nervous) for what AnimeFest had in store. Four days later, we all agreed that we’d had a blast: here are some of my personal highlights.

The autograph lines

Given the massive demand at all other conventions that Yamamoto and Kubo had been at, my friends and I were prepared for the possibility that we’d miss out. We were also concerned that con staff were trying to ask the guests to do something that we were sure Kubo would not agree to do: refrain from doodling. But on Thursday, we were ecstatic to find that both Kubo and Hiramatsu were answering fan requests. And I still thank my lucky stars that we made it to the front of the lines on that first day—the AnimeFest staff cut it off about 10 people after me.

That first day, the set-up also meant that many of the other guests just ended up sitting there waiting for fans to come along. So as we passed them, I ducked out of the line briefly to speak with screenwriter Sato Dai and musician/composer Tsuchie. Unfortunately, I hadn’t actually brought what I’d wanted them to sign (a shikishi that I will be asking Watanabe Shin’ichirou to add to come November), so I went back the second day to join the line for the other guests. And it was great to be able to chat briefly with all of them. I asked Koyama Shigeto about his mecha designs for Napping Princess, and most of the film’s staff drew cute little pictures on the cool poster provided by the con. I told Choi Eunyoung and Yuasa Masaaki that I was really looking forward to seeing Lu Over the Wall and Tanezaki Atsumi that I’d enjoyed her work in the second season of Sound! Euphonium and was looking forward to the movies. Unfortunately I missed Tanemura Arina, who had to leave early to get to her panel scheduled immediately after the autograph session. However, my greatest regret was not bringing one of my Ghibli blu-rays for Tanaka Atsuko to sign!

Treasuring my encounters with Sato Dai

One thing that will always stick in my memory, however, is the cheerful ball of fun that is Sato Dai. Given my preoccupations with anime writing, it shouldn’t be a surprise that his panels were my second priority after everything Yuri!!!-related. Unfortunately, my friends and I missed his first panel because of our tardiness on Thursday morning, but after our little conversation in the autograph line—one question I asked was what he thought of the directors he’d worked with, and he spoke of how Yamamoto, Yuasa and Kamiyama all get inspiration from music—I made up my mind to attend the other two.

And boy, was it worth it. I should admit that AnimeFest was where I actually became a fan of his. I saw Eureka 7 or Samurai Champloo years ago, and unlike many other Western fans, neither really captured my heart. And getting ready for Madfest will see me watching Cowboy Bebop again for the first time in ages. In fact, out of everything Sato’s worked on, Ergo Proxy is probably the show that I was most impressed by when I sat down to watch it-it was great to see how happy he was to hear us cheer for it! And I will never, ever forget his responses to two “OMG, did they really just ask that?!” questions!

However, the highlight took place at the third panel on Saturday morning, a repeat on Samurai Champloo. Questions asked at both panels I’d attended confirmed one thing for me, which is that many anime fans assume that screenwriters like Sato are the people who have the greatest influence on the story.1 Hence, I decided to ask him to clarify how story creation works in anime. And here is his answer (paraphrased since I didn’t record the panel, so please do not use any of it as a direct quote of Sato’s!):

There are two general patterns. For adaptations of e.g. a novel or manga, a producer will usually decide to do something, and the director and screenwriter will help him carry it out. But for originals, the director is usually the central figure, the one who’ll get the producer(s) and screenwriter(s) on board. However, exceptions exist. For example, Eureka 7 was made to sell toys and games.

I already knew this, of course. But hearing it from a well-known screenwriter like Sato made my day. I don’t expect it to change the way fans discuss anime writing overnight—there were only something like 40-50 people in the room, after all, and I haven’t seen anyone else report it. But I’m hoping that the question I passed to Katy for Yatta-Tachi‘s interview with Sato will also provide more insight into this ill-understood aspect of anime production. And above all, I received something special for asking it. There were five BD/DVD prizes in total for session 3, with Sato and Tsuchie adding two signed posters so that everyone who asked questions could receive something. And what Sato chose to award me was incredibly fitting given my preoccupation with anime writing: a copy of the first season of Space Dandy with the signatures of all five AnimeFest guests who’d worked on it.

Guess what I’ll be doing at Madfest ^^

And a little preview for part 2

I was sad to miss a few other panels, especially Monica Rial’s on ADR Script Adapting and Susan Napier and Tanaka Atsuko’s joint talk about Studio Ghibli. I also regretted missing all the panels where I might have learned the answer to the one pressing question I have about the English dub for Yuri!!!: who, exactly, determined how it was written and directed? However, thanks to good fortune and friends who kept a very close eye on news about the queues, I made it into all three panels with the Japanese staff. And despite the delays and a lot of “lost in translation” for the Thursday panel, it was well worth it. We learned so much, though I will only touch on some of the highlights…when I return tomorrow!

  1. There are exceptions. For example, the lady seated next to me at the Friday panel asked an excellent question about how he went about writing death scenes and near-death experiences, since they seem to be a feature of many shows he’s worked on. Sato was really pleased by this question, as it gets to the heart of what his work is about: the details that help build realistic characters. 

About karice
MAG fan, freelance translator and political scientist-in-training. I also love musicals, travel and figure skating!

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