The Ties That Bind

The manga artist Mutsumi Akazaki was having a bad day. She had been slogging through the latest instalment of the Fractale comic, a tie-in to the anime series of the same name, and mused on her blog that she wished she could work on something she actually enjoyed, that wasn’t “uninteresting.”

Fractale’s notoriously prickly director, Yutaka Yamamoto, hit the roof, demanding that Akazaki be fired, and adding insult to injury by suggesting that she sod off and draw her heart’s desire, instead of riding the coattails of others.

Akazaki had been very stupid. You don’t bite the hand that feeds you, particularly when you are just starting out. And bitching online about how harrrrd your life is is a rookie error, particularly when you are drawing comics for a living, and not, say, packing sardines in a factory or huddling in a tent in Fukushima. Nor are any fans (Fractale presumably still has some) likely to smile on a creative who makes it plain how much they hate the show that Fractale fans love. Fans like to think that creators are other fans, otherwise they feel bilked and cheated.

But Yamamoto’s knee-jerk response offers a glimpse of the way that tie-in writers are often treated – ridiculed by some other creators for not being “original”, even though fitting one’s creative output to meet the restrictions of someone else’s franchise is no mean feat in itself.

However, at the end of June, the Gangan Online website posted the next instalment of the Fractale manga bang on schedule. Akazaki had already delivered it, after all, and there was the upcoming compilation release to consider. It was, perhaps, a subtle little reminder that Fractale doesn’t actually belong to its director either. The story is by Hiroki Azuma, the show-runner is Mari Okada, and a committee of six executive producers form the actual Jedi Council that steers the franchise through the media. In other words, Yamamoto himself had been given quiet notice that he, too, was working for hire on a product that actually belonged to someone else.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Schoolgirl Milky Crisis: Adventures in the Anime and Manga Trade. This article first appeared in NEO #89, 2011.