Anime Authorship: All for One, not One for All

There is too much iconography being spread around for a select few names in the anime industry. It’s like people can’t see these names without slinging a bag of worries on their back before they watch, to burden the writer’s every chance of developing their story and their own image; a statuesque meta-narrative of their past work and what they think of it, claiming everything falls in line with it only because they make it fall in line. Take Maeda’s ‘mistakes’. They’re not just cryogenically frozen since Angel Beats! aired; people use them to freeze up thought on anything new he does.

Some people don’t give stories a full chance to form into something unique; they cut down that potential whenever it’s easy to say ‘that’s typical [writer]’. They turn every show into some ‘interview’ with its creator, and their only interest is casting as permanent a monument or a coffin for them as they can. People don’t think writers grow, while they ironically supersize the impact their craftmanship had on the work.

Some don’t even know who wrote what in the first place.

It seems weird for me to return to Mayoiga, as I decided to ‘drop’ blogging the series early into its run. I wish I hadn’t. I wish I’d been keeping a diary of my Impressions week by week, because some ‘reviews’ of the show being distributed range from viewing the show unfairly, regardless of how ‘good’ the show itself is, to outright lying to their readership. Today I’ll be discussing one such review by The Pantless Anime Blogger, and why it made me so irritated about the attitude so many ‘reviewers’ have to authorship in anime.

Oh gawd, what do you say about Mayoiga? It is an original screenplay, so I already had my guard up. Nothing original is good now, but I was incredibly cautious because this was written by Mari Okada. She already had her turn at writing something original, and it’s called Nagi no Asukara. The premise is pretty solid, but Mari certainly does not know how to properly utilize characters. She can create a nice environment for them to move in, like the imaginative underwater village in Nagi no Asukara, but the woman cannot craft a story well. The good premise eventually runs in a circle until it eventually crumbles into something awful. I hated Nagi no Asukara so much that I refuse to publish my review of it. I’d give KyoAni a score of ten before I publish it. Given my long experience with anime, you can just tell Mayoiga will suck. It’s not really a matter of “is it good or bad”, but it’s more “how bad is it going to be?” Despite knowing this will bad, I still decided to watch it though. I’m in this for the sh*ts and giggle, and a lot of my facebook followers also wanted this review. Oh, you sad bastards. I can tell you straight up that Mari Okada’s writing is still as bad as Nagi no Asukara. Mayoiga had a good concept and premise, but the characters were pretty bad. The story lagged, and the ending sucked. But you can really tell things are going to be bad in the first episode alone.

I was more than surprised when I read a reviewer say they were ‘cautious’ going into something because Okada’s name was attached to it. The assumption immediately made by TPAB is that Okada is the show’s’ writer’. In talking with the reviewer, they defended this belief, though it remained completely unevidenced. The evidence they asked me for (instead of doing independant research themselves to check things over) was a couple of google searches away. A mere glance at MyAnimeList shows Okada listed under ‘series composition’ for Mayoiga. An interview with Okada supports this as her role, and also demonstrates that she was brought on late to the project. The scriptwriters were different people, and it was the director’s vision being most adhered to, with the entire staff chipping into the creative process:

Although this is an original anime it’s not a story that I decide upon myself but is big general plot made by the ideas of everyone at the meeting, throwing out their ideas. At the start the details are undecided, with everyone providing ideas live and that’s Mizushima’s policy. We somehow decided upon the conclusion and settings on the way

The biggest problem is that this is not just a mistake of ‘reviewing’. By believing Okada was the ‘writer’ and placing so much of the show under her control, you affect the initial viewing itself. Your mind becomes more sensitive to Okada’s style because of the meta-narrative you’ve wrapped around the work of (your opinion of) her past successes and fails. You initiate a confirmation bias that renders the work as you see it in a way that makes it so easy to criticize; you keep noticing ‘Okada this’ and ‘Okada that’ instead of engaging your brain with what things in the story mean to each other. You’re only interested in what they mean to your authorial meta-narrative. You do nothing but facilitate circular logic; ‘the failure of Okada caused the failure of Mayoiga’, when the failure of Okada could only be perceived from saying a work in isolation of its creator fails in some way – so why aren’t you seeing Mayoiga on its own terms too?

If you’re skeptical about how much of an effect ‘confirmation bias’ has on you , popular Youtbue critic of everything Paul Joseph Watson shared this anecdote in his denouncement of a lot of real problems with ‘modern art’ and the way people use it, view it and fund it. Place anything in the context that it had a certain kind of authorship, and you start saying things about it you’d have never said before. Place Mayoiga in the context of Okada’s writing, and you’re as good a critic as the person who said the apron is ‘perfectly balanced in its randomness’. Maybe it is well balanced chaos, but would you say that if you were just told it’s an apron? Would TPAB have talked about Mayoiga having problems from the very start if they knew what a limited extent of contribution Okada had to the overall work? The review speaks to the contrary.

Even if Okada had ‘written’ the show, this kind of thinking already gets in the way of the actual performance of the story, which is published in isolation of its creator and should be seen on its own terms until the end, when you equate it back to its writer for a review and not the view itself. Otherwise you do stupid things like shutting down the potential for meaning of certain elements because you don’t think they’ll amount to anything:

From the first episode alone, you can already tell the anime has some plot holes. The characters’ motivations and backstories, their blissful ignorance that they’re heading into a cliché horror setup and the lack of explanation about their destination already signal bad things about the anime. You’re already racking up questions in your head, and I can guarantee that the anime will not answer them.

Here is a similar problem to what people leveled at Digibro’s ERASED review: just how can you tell from the first episode that there ‘will be plot holes’? How do these things ‘signal bad things about the anime’ in any way, shape or form? Even buzzwords have their place sometimes, but I’m not surprised a critic who didn’t even research who the writer of the show was doesn’t know what a ‘plot hole’ even is.

If you’re going to think about Okada, at least let her inform you of how the stories she works on are geared towards subversion, whether you find them enjoyable or not. Anyone who knows Okada broadly knows that she enjoys taking stereotypes and messing with them, whether it’s the characters’ frustration at their own types in Toradora! or the similar breakdowns of superficial personality in Kiznaiver and Anohana. If you want to go so far as defend considering her as you view the show, you should be at least be versed on her full production history. Else you’ll only be making up your own simple, easy ‘patterns’ of her authorship that, under the microscope of actually analyzing her career, don’t hold up at all. Okada’s one of the most prolific and varied writers there is!

In speaking with the reviewer, however, I discovered that they are relating the ‘pattern’ of Okada’s ‘style’ they see in Mayoiga to only two other Okada works. Two instances of anything isn’t psychologically enough for the brain to pick up a pattern, let alone apply one. Furthermore the reviewer says their ‘long experience of anime’ helped them ‘know’ how bad Mayoiga will turn out to be, even though they have an incredibly short experience of Okada herself. Time spent in a medium isn’t proof for anything. You can spend that time refining your understanding, or just become more and more stubborn in your principles. You can pretend you’re doing one, but your reviews themselves may very well speak of the other.

At first, I actually liked the approach. The story is so good that it can tell three stories and still shroud the audience in darkness. At some point, the paranoia will get to the audience as well. This is what I originally thought, but then I soon realized that Mari Okada is just a sh*t writer.

By placing a story in the context of an authorial meta-narrative you invent, whether you’ve actually spotted the right author or not, you engender all sorts of circular logic. You disengage from the story because you have no ‘faith’ in the writer, when what is there to lose by staying immersed and giving it every fair chance? You’re ensuring the writer will only look worse and worse for yourself.

Deciding to disengage from potential growth of characters and theme, or from the anticipation of an answer to your question, is like saying ‘today could be a bad day’ and never getting out of bed, and you starve and die. The story’s potential starves and dies if you don’t feed it your attention. How would you ever know there’s been an answer if you stopped asking the question? And if the reason you stopped giving it attention was because of a false assumption of authorship – really, any assumption of something external like authorship, any meta-narrative around the work – your way of viewing, in order to ‘review’ later, is at fault. You brought a lie into the story, or a supposition, and you let that destabilize it. The author isn’t in the story; you put them in and shone the spotlight on signs of their character instead of concentrating on the characters they wrote. The brain can only process one signifier at a time, and how are we viewing a story fairly if we’re always thinking ‘what does this mean for the author’ more than what it means for the characters and narrative. And if you did that from the first episode, were you ever thinking of engaging with these characters at all?

They wanted to prove this theory by sticking a knife in her, and it must’ve slipped their mind that they already tied her up meaning she clearly isn’t paranormal. They argued that the knife would just pass through her if she’s a ghost, and all I kept thinking is that I had Nagi no Asukara in my f*cking drafts and I no longer want to publish it. This is Mari Okada’s kind of writing style. She does have good ideas, but she can’t really write cohesively.

Okada aside, if you can’t tell from that ghost scene that the show is taking the piss out of its ridiculous cast, it’s beyond clear that you’ve skewed your perception of the show to fit whatever easy stab you want to take at it rather than see the story for what it is. And with Okada in the picture, if you actually did know her ‘writing style’ (which was only a small cog in the machine), you’d be sensitive to how she tears down the strength of characterization frequently in her work and questions it at every turn.

Whether not Mayoiga is a ‘good’ parody is a different question; I for one don’t think it’s one. But the very first thing we should be sensitive to, if we’re calling ourselves knowledgeable of her ‘style’, is that Mayoiga laughs at itself more in its first episode than a full series of You’ve Been Framed does. A montage of character introductions for people trying to escape their past, forced to explain their past as prefatory to everything they do, and most of the ‘introductions’ aren’t even that at all. The double-takes on identity the internet personas invite us into. Masaki crying at the hippo song. There’s more deliberate, conscious error in the first episode than there are successes for things. When the cast is entirely eccentrics, do you really think we’re going to have a sincere take on this genre? And if we’re not familiar with how postmodern comedy works in a different way to a lot of things, we’re missing yet another essential context to how this is written.

Judging Mayoiga under the umbrella of sincere horror is like judging Shelley’s Frankenstein through the genre of romance, or ERASED through the mould of the ‘whodunnit’ mystery genre. You’ve wrapped Christmas paper around a birthday present and then you criticize the gift itself for being at fault.

The other thing severely missing here is a consideration of the director’s style. Again, it’s not something you should link things to through as you watch unless it gives you hints about what to neutrally expect. We’re looking at the guy who did the script and directing for Dokuro-chan, who directed Another, two shows that use the horrific in a similarly distorted way to Mayoiga does. Why would you place so much primacy of authorship on someone not even listed as the script writer and not notice the stylistic patterns of the director, the one with ultimate control over the creative direction? And let’s not forget to look at the actual scriptwriters too.

A complex conversation needs to be made between elements of the anime industry in order to discern who’s responsible for what. But often there’s just too much supposition; we’re left better off letting the Death of the Author we (should have) experienced when witnessing the work, and just judging the story on his it performs. None of this ‘I know it won’t amount to anything, and oh look, it didn’t!’. It’s the evasion of analysis, of tackling the meaning of things. You tell yourself you know what’s happening ‘behind the scenes’ and use that to excuse yourself from caring about he scenes themselves. Again, how in the name of Mother Teresa on a bicycle can you ‘know’ there will be plot holes because of the first episode?

Authoriship in anime is not One for All, not one writer for ‘all’ the work; this isn’t an ‘Okada story’. She was brought in to be but a spoke in the wheel. If you really want to criticize her, criticize her series composition in relation to what everyone else has separate responsibility for. Maybe look at the series composition for WIXOSS, as she said in the aforementioned interview that she thinks she ‘hasn’t changed’ since doing that in 2014. If you really want to try to discern which ideas are hers, try watching more than just two of her other shows. But regardless, if you want to criticize Mayoiga, watch it fairly first. None of this shutting down your mind and preventing the story from having any chance to perform anything story-like for you. You become a commentor upon only your own warped reduction of everything – especially if you didn’t even research which staff member had which role. I’d go as far to say you can’t even ‘review’ a story you viewed so erroneously in the first place. Did you really ‘view’ the show, or did you just entertain the ticklist of your biases? You’re not appreciating the medium; you’re only appreciating the sense of your own of critical worth.

If Mayoiga was ‘written’ by Okada, this blog post was composed by French critic Roland Barthes. If you know his ideas, you’ll have seen them in my approach. But I wrote this blog post, not Barthes. Mayoiga has two scriptwriters and neither of them is Okada, no matter how present Okada’s ‘style’ may feel in one way or another, no matter how many of her ideas were worked into the narrative by the collective effort of the studio.

Singling out one element just because they have some iconography you can use to get gullible people to see you as somehow more evidenced is ignorance not only of authorship in anime, but authorship in general. No critic trying to understand Mary Shelley would do so without understanding her as simply a filter of all the ideas she’s drawn from her own culture and various others. Authors are just, to use Barthes’ words, ‘eternal copyists’.

That someone is a ‘big name’ does not mean everyone else’s ideas in a creative process as complex as Mayoiga’s get pushed away by them. Anime in not One for All; it’s All for One, all the staff and their different ideas and skills combined for one product; every member of the production,  drawing on everything that inspires them, working together to make the story and help us understand its success or failure.

Let’s remember how complicated making anime is, and not boil it down to iconography to suit uninformed biases.

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8 thoughts on “Anime Authorship: All for One, not One for All”

  1. I agree with the part about Okada Mari. She tends to make massive amounts of characters until she don’t know when and how to utilise them efficiently. This is the main reason why Mayoiga characters don’t really make any impressions, even for the main characters.

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    1. Errrrrrrrr I think you missed the entirety of my point here.

      Okada did not ‘make’ or ‘utilise’ these characters. She did the/ series composition/. The whole studio, especially the /actual/ scriptwriters, have responsibility for the characters and how they were written.

      You’re doing exactly what I’m calling out here; saying the failure of the work is just because of some larger failure of the author. Just using some meta-narrative to explain away your view of the story’s issues without doing any actual analysis of the work itself.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I think people WAY oversimplify the production process, as you said, believing that one person’s influence has more impact than it actually has, as you seemed to indicate in this article. You provided some excellent examples for that, and I sometimes think about AAA video games, which “hardcore” games tend to scoff at. The go-to example of this is Call of Duty, which I don’t particularly care for myself, but has a LOT of excellence in it that people overlook because of its baggage. A family member of mine did some work for the studio, which I shadowed, and it really riles my feathers to hear some entirely ignorant comments.

    On the other hand, there definitely are SOME mediums where I think acknowledging the author can result in some more legitimate preconceived notions. The visual novel industry, for example, employs far fewer than its higher-budget counterparts (with some exceptions, of course), thus individuals have more say a la novelists. You can give benefit of the doubt, sure, but a writer that has clear tendencies will have clear tendencies.

    All in all, I find myself generally incapable of writing fair reviews because of all these complications. I don’t know as much as I wish I knew. My personal, biased tastes are different from others’. I KNOW that I’m subconsciously copying what I’ve read or heard when I form my “own” opinions. Frankly, all of these issues have the potential to make amateur reviews hair-pulling levels of irritating (note I said potential; some amateur reviewers are quite good at what they do!). I don’t always practice what I preach, but I hope that I can curb my own cynicism and give content creators the benefit of the doubt.

    Anyways, ranting aside, I didn’t finish watching Mayiga (I dropped it at episode 3) because I wasn’t enjoying it. Frankly, I probably would have said it was bad had I finished it, but who knows. Nice article! Hope to see you around the ‘net more often; it’s been a while!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ‘Notions’ for mediums are very valid, anime at times included. What really matters to me is the different /kinds/ of notions. Thoughts of ‘this will be good/bad’ are pretty useless to the viewer and only obfuscate; you’re trying to jump to conclusions based on preliminary info. You’re basically being impatient. Notions of ‘this story might contain X’ are however often very useful. This is partly what I meant about Okada; if you’re going to acknowledge her, that should lead to you expecting, neutrally, an at least slightly sideways view of characterization.

      Part of the reason I write so few actual ‘reviews’ is because I know how complicated the artistry and I want to dedicate a lot of time and care to thinking everything through, which I haven’t had for a while now because of uni and such.

      Thanks for stopping by, Japes!

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  3. Before I forget, that gift box analogy was perfect in this situation.
    This is why I don’t like knowing the ‘creator’ of a work, or that it is ‘from the minds of’ such and such title. My favorite way to watch anime is blindly and completely. As such, that’s also the reason I don’t write episodic reviews (besides the lack of time). While it is admittedly cool to log your thoughts behind each episode only to look back on how surprised you had truly become, it’s all ultimately one piece of work; one ‘bad’ episode won’t ruin a series for me, just as how one ‘good’ episode won’t make it the “best airing anime of the season.” That goes to say that one first episode that supposedly has ‘plot holes’ will also not mean that the whole series will, too. It almost begs me to ask that guy if he really watches anime, or if he just compiles the community’s thoughts onto one angry blog post.
    On an entirely different note, placing blame on one person for being at fault in a production (or vice versa) is really ignorant. Like seriously, do people really think that one person made the ENTIRE story, and that its presentation has nothing to do with how the results came out? You even have evidence left proving that Mayoiga wasn’t written by one person, BUT by two or heck, the whole damn team. I can understand a bad call made here and there, but do us fans really have that information as to who decided what other than the staff listing and/or interviews that say exclusively so? Unless you’re making the show, no. That’d be cool to experience once, though.
    It is very true that ALL of the people who made this anime (and all others) created ONE product. And if I may make my own analogy to the team, criticizing a dish because it has ‘too’ much salt should not blast the salt, but the entire dish. Perhaps that was weak, but I think you get my idea. Thanks for the ‘outrospective’ post.
    (and the way this chum sat on Nagi Asu just because the characters weren’t “using their environment to its fullest” really makes me sick. I understand that the sea village is incredible, and that the characters aren’t the strongest, but shunning the entire series for that reason…ugh)

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  4. That was an excellent post on the topic. For me, Mayoiga’s biggest mistake is its sagging middle. It had a promising start, and the end had plenty of interesting ideas; yet, the middle episodes felt like there was little point to them besides suspense. The show reminded me very much of C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, but Mayoiga suffers from not explaining the meaning behind the characters’ psychological problems until the very end. Added to that, the fact that the characters never slept drove me nuts.

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  5. “The other thing severely missing here is a consideration of the director’s style.”

    I don’t know if I took this quote out of context but I sincerely agree with this line. In my opinion, the direction is just as important as the dialogue when we appraise an anime series. I do not know how anyone can take a look at Mayoiga seriously with all the bouncy soundtrack, horrible CGIs and the framing. These do not suit in a typical horror show.

    Of course, I plead myself guilty for pointing out author for a series when I write for an overview (well, duh, I am a fan of Okada.so I don’t consider myself as an objective reviewer.). Yet… to doom a series just because it is an original and it is a work of a certain author (even if I hate him/her) are just plain nuts. Why the prejudice?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And to doom a series because you assumed it was the work of one writer, when the process of making anime is so variable and complicated and collaborative, is beyond nuts.

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