Anime Supremacy is translated by Deborah Boliver Boehm.
Anyone who has read or listened to any of the past few years of the UKA podcast should know of my fondness of anime series which dramatise and tell the story of the creative process behind the production of anime, manga and games. Shirobako and New Game are just two series of this ilk which have graced our screens in the last few years which try to present some of the realities of the creative process.
As a person deeply involved in such complex production processes in my working day I am well aware of the joys of tight deadlines, failures by members of my teams, clients changing their specifications at the last minute and technical failures which wipe out data. This pain is common to all of us in our various fields, and both New Game and Shirobako touched on this.
So when I was offered the chance to read a book which focused on the Japanese animation industry through a series of interlinked stories, I obviously jumped at the opportunity. Anime Supremacy is a phrase which tends to be used to describe the race to become the most popular anime in any given animation season in Japan. Given that so few anime series break even, let alone become profitable, the race to gather as many viewers and as much positive hype as possible forces companies to work ever-harder with increasing constraints and reduced resources in a bid to produce high quality anime series, sometimes catering to very specific tastes.
Anime Supremacy is also the title of this book. Following three professional women as they take on this highly competitive industry, infamous for its horrific schedules, traitorous personalities and impossible deadlines.
The first tale follows a successful animation producer. She is a huge fan of an old magical girl series written and directed by an eccentric shut-in with an over-inflated sense of his own importance. She struggles and fights to deliver her series against all odds, most of them caused by argumentative animators, voice actors not doing what they are supposed to be doing, and her director flaking out on her and running away.
The second tale follows another young woman as she works to direct her own animation series for a large animation studio. She is assisted by an experienced manager who is also helping produce six other series, and she is in direct competition with the woman in the first tale. While they aren’t friends, they aren’t enemies and the two stories intertwine. This tale follows her troubles with getting voice actors to deliver work, and making sure that the genga, the promotional artwork to advertise the series, gets produced so that she can beat her rival.
The final tale follows the young animator who was recruited by the director in the second tale as she works for a small animation studio out in the sticks.
Eventually, they all come together to bash heads, reflect on their experiences in a rather touching little final tale. It's a nice little moment of camaraderie which echoes some of the cuter moments of Shirobako.
While these are all works of fiction, the author has spent a long time researching her subjects and the industry as a whole. Her acknowledgements at the rear of the book show a wide variety of well known industry names, many of which readers will be familiar with. The tales she weaves could be mistaken for being not fiction, but almost autobiographical and at times, I honestly thought that the book was an autobiographic account of the author’s experiences in the Japanese animation industry. Those of you who listen to the podcast may note my proclamation of this!
However, even if the book isn't based on specific experiences, it is educational. This a very detailed description of what goes into the production of an animation series, from concept, to storyboarding, voice acting, sound production and the stages of animation, editing and finalising, this book covers it all in a touching and fun series of stories. What you can take away from this is a realisation that even the most cookie-cutter series in any given genre has taken thousands of man-hours to produce and there are real livelihoods resting on success. I have found myself appreciating the industry more, while simultaneously noting the similarities with my own industry. I only hope I manage my projects with more panache than these ladies!
While the book is fun and educational, I have found it a bit hard to progress with at times. The translation is excellent and while the prose is well written, the tone and descriptiveness, which regularly follows Japanese novel works, does tend to cause lapses in concentration and grinds you down a bit at times. The author’s characters, however, are fully formed and relatable, and this saves the book to no end. Anime Supremacy turns into more of a survival story of three women in the industry, rather than a book about the Japanese animation industry, and I think that it is better for it.
I was happy that the three main characters flourished, overcame their challenges and were able to achieve a satisfying ending. Anime Supremacy has left me with a smile and an improved positive opinion of an industry which has felt very insular and distant.
This book is a must read for all those with an interest in the creative process.