Takeshi Shudo 1949-2010

Takeshi Shudo, who died yesterday, was a scriptwriter on some of the best-known anime of modern times. After a stumbling start in scripting, he would eventually become the first recipient of a prestigious anime screenwriting award, and would go on to establish the dramatic voices of some of the most-watched anime characters of the early 21st century.

The son of an assistant prefectural governor, Shudo was born in Fukuoka, and spent his childhood in Sapporo, Nara and, eventually, Shibuya in Tokyo. His knowledge of this latter location would eventually be put to use in his scripts for Idol Angel Welcome Yoko (1990, Idol Tenshi Yokoso Yoko), in which a pop star masqueraded as an anime superheroine. But his road to anime was a rocky one, and encompassed a false start in live-action.

After flunking his first set of university entrance exams, the teenage Shudo picked up his sister’s copy of Scenario magazine, which intrigued him with its “how-to” articles on screenwriting. He was still only 19 years old in 1969 when he sold his first script, an episode of the long-running live-action ninja-cop TV show Oedo Dragnet, a.k.a. Oedo Untouchables. However, his script was pilloried, not least by Shudo himself, for its “surfeit of unconvincing emotions,” and no further work was forthcoming. He drifted through a number of sales jobs in Japan and Europe, before a meeting with the prominent screenwriter Fukiko Miyauchi gave him a second chance, writing “Sly Coyote”, an episode of the anime series Cartoon Folktales of the World (Manga Sekai Mukashi-banashi), broadcast on 18th November 1976.

After working on some other serials for Dax International, he moved to Tatsunoko Productions and then Ashi Pro (now known as Production Reed) in the 1980s, where he was an instrumental writer on several new serials. Although both Idiot Ninja (Sasuga Sarutobi) and I’ll Make a Habit of It! (Ch? Kuse ni Naris?) were based on works by manga creators, Shudo put his mark on them as lead screenwriter, coining catchphrases and the comedy business that would become his trademark. In 1983, his work on these shows and others would secure him the first Anime Grand Prix Screenwriting Award, an honour that would later be conferred on the likes of Kazunori It? and Hayao Miyazaki.

Shudo’s most enduring influence was arguably his creation of Fairy Princess Minky Momo, one of the first of the new generation of “magical girl” shows, refashioning the Japanese folktales of Momotar? for an audience of young girls. Particularly successful in France and Italy, where she is known as Princess Gigi, Momo was able to transform into an adult version of herself, taking on various jobs in the grown-up world. Other series that featured his work included Legend of the Galactic Heroes and Martian Successor Nadesico.

Shudo also worked as a novelist, largely on books spun off from anime shows. He wrote many of the Goshogun novels, nine volumes of the fantasy series Eternal Filena, and the first two books that novelised the Pokémon series. Pokémon was Shudo’s most identifiable work for modern audiences. As with his the successes of his youth, it was not his personal creation, but he still injected many recurring tropes and comedy elements that would come to define the series. He wrote the screenplay for Pokémon: The First Movie (1998), one of the best-selling anime videos of the decade in many territories, including the UK, where it sold over 360,000 copies.

On 28th October 2010, he collapsed in the smoking area of the JR Nara train station. He was rushed to hospital for emergency surgery, but died several hours later from a subarachnoid haemorrhage. At the time, he had been working for the companies Gonzo and Dogakobo on a new cheerleader “character project” called Cheer Figu!, although its precise nature (anime, computer game, manga?) remains unclear.

Shud?’s death deprives the anime world of yet another of its creators, in a year that has already taken the lives of several prominent figures. Moreover, it further diminishes the dwindling population of 20th century anime screenwriters. The Anime Grand Prix for Screenwriting was only awarded for seven years in the 1980s, and four of its recipients have already passed away, including Susumu Takaku (1933-2009) and Hiroyuki Hoshiyama (1944-2007).

Jonathan Clements is the author of Schoolgirl Milky Crisis: Adventures in the Anime and Manga Trade.

Starting Point

Starting Point is often technical, and frequently curmudgeonly, as one might expect from a collection of essays, articles and speeches by the Oscar-winning Hayao Miyazaki. The book spans a critical two decades, beginning when he was a busy but unknown anime director, and ending as he prepared to release his acclaimed Princess Mononoke.

A welcome change from press-release puffery and anodyne publicity interviews, Starting Point offers an unwavering glimpse of Miyazaki’s white-hot intellect and ardent creative beliefs. A recurring theme is his seething hatred for television, the medium that paid the bills during his twenties, while leeching much of the creativity from the anime world. Miyazaki is fiercely critical of the production line system instituted in the 1960s, and rues the day anime stopped being an organic, evolving process, in which artists would snicker over storyboards like comics, before working them up into sketches. By the time he left TV in disgust to make Castle of Cagliostro, animators were just the guys who painted and traced, relentlessly working on a sausage-machine of production, with creativity left to nobody but a paltry handful of senior staffers. And even they were trapped within the confines of budgets, advertisers, and stuffed shirts whom Miyazaki has no qualms about calling stupid.

But that’s half the fun in a beautifully produced, intensely brainy collection of rants and raves from the undisputed master of modern Japanese animation, rendered even stronger by a peerless translation from Beth Cary and Frederik L. Schodt. If one must quibble, a bitty compilation like this, brimming with reportage and incident, really ought to have an index. But even so, this is a mandatory purchase for the serious anime fan.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Schoolgirl Milky Crisis: Adventures in the Anime and Manga Trade. This review first appeared in SFX Total Anime #3, 2010.

Choc Shock

So that’s Scotland Loves Anime done and in the bag, and me off to get the afternoon train to London. It’s been a great nine days that’s seen me interviewing Satoshi Nishimura and Shigeru Kitayama in Glasgow, and discussing Translation at Edinburgh University — some very impressive and inspiring  students there, including one who did some amazing MSc work comparing professional work and fansubs, and who’s got his just reward, a cushy job in Frankfurt localising for Nintendo.

Friday was the Education Day at the Edinburgh Filmhouse, where I led 20 Animation students through the miseries of production accounting, legal, packaging, and broadcasting. Within two hours, they were pitching a 13-episode TV series about evil overlord Tone Def and his incompetent space pirates trying to steal chocolate from Earth, and held off by an alien pop group, while I enumerated all the reasons they were going to get sued. There was much shouting and laughter, but also, I think, a bit of learning going on. And so we have Choc Shock, to add to previous workshops’ story ideas such as Decontaminators (from the Irish Film Institute) and Hattie Bast: Mummy’s Girl (from Screen Academy Wales). This time, we incorporated recent unexpected discoveries I have made about the correlations between TV ratings and the longevity of toy lines, based on claims made by Tokyo Movie Shinsha’s Keishi Yamazaki in his book Terebi Anime Damashii.

On Friday afternoon, we had Nik Taylor from Rockstar talking about the development of Grand Theft Auto 4, and Oscar Wright from Scott Pilgrim taking us frame-by-frame through the film’s anime inspirations. I found this particularly fascinating, not only for his excerpts of influential cartoons, games and comics, but for the debates over how many frames onscreen sound effects should be held for. Then a panel about finding work in the industry, in which Helen Jackson of Binary Fable joined us to discuss the applications of student skills in the real world. A fantastic day. Meanwhile, Michael Sinterniklaas has been around all weekend, discussing dubbing and localisation on several panels, and taking a bow at the screening of Summer Wars, for which he has just recorded the lead voice in the English dub. He’s a force of nature, bubbling with industry insider information, and peppering his stories with a thousand voices. He’s back in England for next week’s London Expo, and I think fans are in for a treat.

From Friday night onwards there were more screenings to introduce: Redline for a boggled crowd, followed by a screening of Professor Layton that was entirely transformed by a bonus giggling lady in the audience. Also, I appeared to be sitting in front of Admiral Ackbar, who kept saying: “IT’S A TRAP!” Sunday morning was an unexpected and illuminating encounter with Joe Peacock, who talked me through the Akira exhibition that has been at the Filmhouse all week — including some amazing original cels that show nine planes of movement.

Scotland Loves Anime has been an incredible success — there were people in town who had travelled from as far afield as France for the premiere of The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya; we had entertaining Japanese guests for Trigun; Redline made everyone feel like they’d been shot out of a cannon; the Education Day was truly educational, and everything rounded off with a sold-out screening of Akira. As festival director Andrew Partridge said himself, would Katsuhiro Otomo have ever imagined a packed screening for his film in the capital of Scotland, 22 years after its original release?

Glory Days

Age and youth were important factors in the music of Yutaka Ozaki. He captivated the hearts of an entire generation of Japanese teenagers, but his obsession with teen years hid a great personal insecurity. Ozaki sung of the empty victory of graduation, but never finished school himself; he wrote of adults waiting to seize children’s minds, but also took kids’ money as part of the adult music machine. Ozaki was that saddest of popular heroes, a teen idol who preached nonconformity, who could only watch in terror as he slowly outgrew his audience.

The teen Ozaki was the only Ozaki that he, or anyone else was interested in, and the release of this CD collection reflects that. The Teenbeat Box isn’t a Greatest Hits, it’s a collection of the recordings that Ozaki made while still a teenager, and it places great weight on these early years, even to the extent of listing the live performances he gave before he hit twenty. Many pop stars find themselves in difficulty when their original audience becomes too sophisticated for them, and Ozaki became a Peter Pan figure, perpetually railing against authority. He could never have returned to do a concert in his forties; his successful portrayal of youthful rebellion was also his undoing, in that as his youth left him, so did the validity of his lyrics.

His career began in 1983 when he dropped out of high school to release his first single. Ozaki had taught himself to play the guitar while holed up at home, supposedly hiding from the school bullies, and he became a model of polite rebellion for many Japanese youths.

His idea of rebellion was nothing unique in itself. On Seventeen’s Map, “The Night” talks of his desire to ride a ‘stolen motorbike, uncaring into the darkness’. More famously, he suggested eloping, with one of his most popular songs, “I Love You”. Depicting a couple who have sacrificed everything so that they can be together in a seedy apartment, it is a moving example of Ozaki’s songwriting ability; unfortunately it’s not such a good example of his singing. The uncredited session musician who sings “I Love You” on Kodansha’s singalong Sing Japanese album is actually a better singer than Ozaki ever was, but Ozaki’s raw quality was part of his appeal. “I Love You” is a beautifully tragic song, and Ozaki’s constantly-cracking voice is supposed to be evocative both of his youth, and of the tearful words of the song.

A more interesting factor in Ozaki’s songwriting, throughout his career, was the way he ran lyrics together. Lines in Ozaki songs tend to be longer and harder to enunciate than usual. It requires a very particular control of one’s breathing to make sure there’s enough oxygen in the lungs to manage some of the longer stanzas, which involve two or three lines intoned without pause for breath. It’s a peculiar style, but nonetheless one that served Ozaki well.

Other songs on Seventeen’s Map include ballads like “My Little Girl”, rock songs like “Scenes of Town”, and even a rock-reggae fusion in High School Rock and Roll. The follow-up album, Tropic of Graduation, contains my favourite Ozaki song, the bittersweet “Graduation”. It begins as a valedictory song, the sort of self-congratulatory, well we’ve made it through school, looking forward to getting a job, let’s still be friends, number that would be on the karaoke machine at the any bar near any school until the end of time. ‘At last we’re free.. from fighting the adults in disbelief, we have the freedom we so desperately wanted’. But “Graduation” turns nasty very fast, as the happy, proud student suddenly starts asking difficult questions: ‘What happened to our dreams? Where do we put our anger now?’ The threshold of adulthood is not regarded with hope or eagerness, but with a bitter elegy for, literally, the best years of the singer’s life. This is particularly relevant, both to the early 80s when Japanese youth started to question the measure of success in getting a steady career, and in Ozaki’s own life, because his pop stardom meant that he never finished school himself.

There’s more of the same in “Bow!”, in which he compares the rebels-without-a-cause around him with ‘Don Quixotes drunk with youth… talking too much of their dreams till dawn arrives.’ Dawn is adulthood, and Ozaki’s children have wasted the long night with empty activities. Ozaki may be a Japanese youth icon, but his words are often identical to those of the Japanese adults. On one level, Ozaki’s songs are an exercise in rebellion, but since he never makes an adverse comment about adult life, merely ironic comments on the emptiness of youthful dreams, you could argue that he was really on the side of his grown-up producers and management.

I would argue that Ozaki’s lyrics have a lot more in common with Bruce Springsteen’s ironies in “Glory Days” and “Born in the USA”. He bids farewell to youth, then stops and wonders why he should bother; and if it isn’t worth saying goodbye to one’s teens, is it really worth saying hello to one’s twenties? This inversion of traditional ideas also comes across in some of his compositions. “Dance Hall” describes a scene of wild and crazy teens, dancing their hearts out at a rock club, drinking, smoking, and blowing their meagre cash on juvenile entertainments. But it’s not a fast rock number, it’s a ballad, as if Ozaki, in slow motion, were watching the frenetic kids in realtime, wanting to be dancing in their midst, but too melancholy to do anything except stand apart.

As Ozaki’s teens drew to a close, he released Through the Broken Door, which had no perceptible change in attitude. He was doing well enough, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Thus the album begins with “Rules on the Street”, in which our now-familiar rebel asks ‘where now?’ Familiar in many ways, because by this time Ozaki’s rebellion seems rather bland. The anger that informed “Graduation” is nowhere to be seen; he still sings of teenage angst, but in a half-hearted way that shows by this stage he was on autopilot. But such an autopilot brings some moving, if manufactured, ballads with it. Forget-me-not has the same chordic arrangements and elegiac quality of the Commodores’ “Three Times a Lady”, although while the Commodores sung of a couple looking back upon an entire lifetime together, Ozaki’s singer only looks back on his teen years.

By the time he came to record Through the Broken Door, Ozaki had a proper backing group, the 50s rock-and-roll-influenced Heart of Klaxon. This introduced a greater degree of professionalism into his songs, but only insofar as they began to take on the appearance of bland MOR tunes to match the bland lyrics. So why is it that I like Through the Broken Door most of all? Maybe I’m getting old myself, who knows? “Grief”, or to translate the title literally, “Him”, is a paean to a dead friend and a lost time, someone who ‘embraced the asphalt’ in an unspecified, drug-related accident, all the more effective in its pathos by depriving the listener of the gory details. It is a serious “Leader of the Pack”, without the campy chorus.

“Doughnut Shop” is a facile hymn to love at first sight, in a location that removes much of the romantic ambience, but there’s something about the final track, “Someone’s Klaxon”, which transcends the material on the rest of the album. Tellingly, it’s no longer Ozaki’s lyrics, which lost their edge a year before, but his musical maturation. Someone’s Klaxon uses minor keys to great effect, and has all the feel of a warm, melancholy yet satisfying tune. You could almost say that the singer had finally found peace, and was ready to face the rest of his life without another scowling backward glance. It was a fitting ballad with which to end Ozaki’s teens, and the best track on Through the Broken Door.

As a grown-up, Ozaki painted himself into a corner with his angst-ridden wish to never grow old. True to form, his life was over when he could no longer hold back the tide of adulthood. He died of a drug overdose in 1992. He was twenty-seven.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Schoolgirl Milky Crisis: Adventures in the Anime and Manga Trade. This review-article was written in 1996 for Anime FX, although the magazine was shut down before it could appear. It is published here for the first time.

Made in Scotland…From Girders

So that’s the first weekend done of Scotland Loves Anime, a mad rush of films and festivities in Glasgow, featuring Satoshi Nishimura and Shigeru Kitayama, the director and producer of Trigun: Badlands Rumble. They were both charming, enthusiastic and informative, and deeply appreciative of the reaction of the Scots to their work. I would say more about it, but I have spent the last three days in a sleepless Japanese haze, and someone else has most meticulous reports that actually remember them better than I do. Follow the links for in-depth accounts of the Summer Wars screening and the Q+A that followed the UK premier of Trigun: Badlands Rumble.

This morning I’m off to Newcastle University to see the people there, but I am back in Edinburgh for Wednesday, when I shall be terrorising and traumatising class Japanese Translation 2B with tales from the anime world. Another lecture open to all university students in the afternoon, and then finally I shall get some sleep… although on Friday it’s the Scotland Loves Anime Education Day, and then another weekend of frolics in Edinburgh.

There’s an article on it all in last week’s Scotsman on Sunday, too. I’ve got to write my next Neo columns while I’m here, so hopefully I will be able to find the time in the middle of all this to sit down and annotate the latest issue of Big Comic Original.

Somebody Else's Problem

It wouldn’t be the first time an anime studio had an entrance that looked like someone’s flat. But once I’m buzzed in and up the stairs, someone’s flat is precisely where I find myself.

Taizo’s easy-iron shirt is mainly nylon, causing him to swelter in the July heat. He stares back at me in mild confusion.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “I was looking for Intergalactic Studios. The people who made Schoolgirl Milky Crisis.” Not its real name, but you get the idea.

“Ah yes,” he says. “Welcome.”

“I must be in the wrong place,” I continue. “Sorry for barging in—”

“This is Intergalactic,” he says. “Well, to be perfectly accurate, that shelf there is Intergalactic Studios. The blue ring binders and the two red box files. Oh, and the in-tray with the egg sandwich on top.”

“But,” I stammer, “what about the premises? You know, the three buildings with all the animators, and that woman with the funny eye who answered the phones, and the offices where all the marketing people had the robot statues…?”

Taizo sniffs.

Taizo was never full-time at Intergalactic. He was an external auditor, the accountant who turned up twice a year to sort out the tax returns. And then one day… well, I’ll let him tell it.

“One day, there’s a call from the bigwigs, and they say it’s all over. No more money for production. No shows to make, no videos to sell. So there’s no need for a studio, and no need for the marketing people. Everybody got laid off, and they sold the real estate to pay off the debt. Actually, truth be told, two of the buildings were only rented anyway.”

I look around the dingy room at the neat little row of folders on the shelves, and the slowly baking egg sandwich.

“So at the end of the day,” says Taizo, “Intergalactic is just the intellectual property. It’s just the I.P. as you say abroad. So all they need is an accountant to look after the contracts and bank the cheques.”

He rifles through the mail and comes up with an envelope bearing a UK postmark.

“Here you go,” he says. “British DVD royalties for the year ending this April. I shove that in the bank, and that’s probably me done for the week. Unless a fax comes in from South Africa or France or somewhere.”

Taizo really is it. Intergalactic Studios is now nothing more than a shelf in an accountant’s office. The studio “staff” is Taizo alone, collecting a few pennies a month to open the mail and bank the cheques.

I ask how long this will go on.

Taizo shrugs.

“The show’s got a few years in it. Might as well leave it to putter away and generate income. The thing the bosses really want is a movie deal. You know, DreamWorks or someone rings up and says they want a movie option. That really is money for nothing. Put Tom Cruise in it. James Cameron directing or something. All I have to do is make a few photocopies.”

But what about the future, I ask. What about the anime of tomorrow? Who will make them?

Taizo shrugs again.

“Somebody else’s problem,” he sighs.

This article first appeared in NEO #75, 2010.


Issue #2 of Salon Futura is now up online, and includes my in-depth piece on the origins of Takeshi Koike’s Redline – just out in the US and Japan, and due to play at Scotland Loves Anime this weekend.

Meanwhile, as if that wasn’t enough crazy action, Danica Davidson has interviewed me today over at the Otaku USA website.

Los Samurais

My Spanish publishers didn’t hang about. A Brief History of the Samurai was only published a few months ago, but the Spanish rights were sold while it was still in galleys, and it now joins Wu, The First Emperor of China, The Moon in the Pines, Chinese Life, Mao and two books on Vikings in Spanish editions. It does feel quite weird to have eight books out in a single foreign territory, with bio blurbs that describe me as el historiador Jonathan Clements.

Wu, incidentally, is now out in Spain in paperback, and has the following kick-ass review from someone called Martinez Shaw: «Este obra demuestra que un buen libro de historia puede ser más apasionante que la mayoría de las novelas históricas»*

I am clearly much more loved in Spain than I am in France, where only one of my books has been translated. And not loved at all in Sweden. Come on, Sweden. Everybody else in Europe has bought the rights to at least one of my books… was it something I said about Vikings…?

(*“This work shows that a good history book can be more exciting than most historical novels” Don’t get me started…)