Re: Sato Dai

Alright, so a little while ago Sato Dai–one of the main writers for Cowboy Bebop (Perhaps you’ve heard of it?)–said some pretty critical things about the Japanese anime industry. The industrious folks over at Otaku2 put up a summary of the man’s thoughts, and having read them, I just have a few comments to make.

He has two main points, and I agree 100% with the first one. I’ve never really liked how portions of anime production have been obviously outsourced overseas for years, even if the quality of the work has gotten better over time. It’s pretty childish, but I feel a little gypped watching “Japanese” animation when all of the grunt work is done in China, South Korea, North Korea, Vietnam, or some other not-Japanese Asian country. There are the often cited and more practical issues that come about as a result of this as well: Inbetweening used to be how people got into the industry. From there they moved on to bigger roles, such as key animation. But with inbetweening being almost completely outsourced these days, that’s not an avenue that’s readily available for anyone wanting to get into the business. Also, it goes without saying that if most of the work is kept in house, then there will obviously be stronger continuity across the work in terms of quality and creative vision. There’s also money issues, but I’d rather not get into those, as they have already been repeated ad nauseum elsewhere on the net.

My thoughts regarding his opinions on the role of story in anime these days (or the lack of) are a bit more complicated. Not that complicated, but not 100% agreement.

Some of his opinions seemed too deeply colored by his role as a story writer. And why wouldn’t they be? It’s how he’s made his living, so it’s natural that he’d be annoyed by anime primarily focusing around characters going about their daily lives with no real narrative to drive it all. But because of that, I can’t take him completely seriously. In some ways, despite being an industry guy, he just seems like any other older anime fan complaining about how his beloved cartoons are no longer about great space battles and instead about girls eating cakes all day.

I do however think that the average fan is just completely uninterested in anything plot driven, which is an issue. I don’t feel plot is necessary for something to be entertaining, but the balance between shows about nothing and shows about something is off. I guess there are some shows about something, but they tend to be adaptations. I suppose that Anime no Chikara project that I’m constantly complaining about is trying to do this, but it’s not doing a very good job.

I do completely agree with him in regards to how anime is restricted to having certain elements in it, or else fans won’t be pleased. He used the term “super establishment system” to describe this, but there has to be a better translation for whatever he said in Japanese. Either way, the design-by-committee approach some shows have doesn’t especially bother me, but it certainly isn’t helping anything. This is why I appreciate SHAFT, as they tend to adapt works that work within that framework to a certain extent, but then turn them on their heads. They then proceed to add all their SHAFT-isms and Shinbo-isms to the mix. It doesn’t always turn out great, but at least they’re leaving a unique mark on works which were already fairly unique.

I’m not sure how much all those words amount to, but at the very least I wanted to give that piece more than just a couple of tweets in response. And if anything, I hope to open up something of a dialogue regarding this issue, because it’s always worth thinking about.

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6 Responses to Re: Sato Dai

  1. omo says:

    This is why I appreciate SHAFT, as they tend to adapt works that work within that framework to a certain extent, but then turn them on their heads. They then proceed to add all their SHAFT-isms and Shinbo-isms to the mix. It doesn’t always turn out great, but at least they’re leaving a unique mark on works which were already fairly unique.

    Right.

    I would consider them one of the worst violators of what Sato is talking about, but hey it’s all good.

  2. Fattierob says:

    Let’s compromise and have giant space battles where the crew are given spice of life episodes.

    Like Nadesico.
    Or Zipang (less giant space more giant water)

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  4. TheBigGSN5 says:

    Constant usage of cliche characters and situations as well as a lack of verisimilitude when it is clearly needed in a work are problems too, not just in anime but in Japanese live-action films and videogames. It’s interesting how undemanding the otaku viewership has become in Japan; casual acceptance and enjoyment of cliche crap is usually the purview of the mainstream, as in CSIs Miami, Vegas, Hoboken, etc. Sure, nerds love reused thematic elements like robots and martial arts and whatnot, but US fans, for one, would probably not let “Battleship Galactico,” “Warship Galaktiker” and “Space Machine Galakik” go through without a massive amount of derision, yet Japanese fans seem quite happy to watch slightly different shows with slightly different characters in slightly different situations over and over again, while almost ignoring works like Cowboy Bebop and Paranoia Agent. US fans like cliche crap too, but they at least have the decency to complain about it! What happened to the Japan that can say no?

    TLDR–Maybe a little more stimulating of the brain and a bit less of the groin, or at least throw them together, like you used to.

  5. The scene merely reflects the zeitgeist says:

    The old-school otaku scene was more “vibrant” because the global zeitgeist was more optimistic about the future. Now that the future is actually here and it’s nowhere near as awesome as we believed it would be, people in general are more disillusioned and much less willing to put any stock in grand elaborate visions and tales. Otaku are no exception to this; the otaku and the mainstream are merely funhouse-mirror disortions of each other.

  6. Jennifu says:

    Maybe this comes from not being JAPANESE but I think outsourcing is A-OK because we really wouldn’t be getting anime without it and I for one wouldn’t mind if South Korea started producing quality animation of its own and becoming another major hub for Asian popular culture (as it’s doing with K-Pop boy bands).

    Just don’t let th PRC overtake anime, because their shit is SHIT.