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.