If you haven’t already, I urge you to read this recent discussion with anime “storywriter” Dai Sato. He’s pissed off with the current state of anime and you should care because he created Eureka Seven and Ergo Proxy, as well as contributing to, amongst others, Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, Wolf’s Rain and Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex.

Sato‘s complaints hone in on two separate areas, the first of which concerns how the production of anime is being increasingly out-sourced to cheap labour in neighbouring Asian countries, but more fascinating to me are his latter comments on the quality of story-telling in anime (or, indeed, the lack there-of.)

“Sato was upset with the lack of respect for stories in Japan. He pointed out that “Ergo Proxy,” for which he wrote the story, had DVD box sets around the world, but not in Japan. He also said that many anime fans dismissed “Eureka Seven” as a “Neon Genesis Evangelion” clone without even watching it. The story, setting and characters are totally different, but snap judgments were made based on images of a mysterious blue-haired girl with red eyes piloting a giant robot (both Ayanami Rei and Eureka fit the description). He wondered how much anime fans really are interested in close readings to generate information…” — Quote from the article in question.

Going into this, one should frame Sato‘s comments in the context that his two creations, Eureka Seven and Ergo Proxy, failed to capture large audiences in Japan; note that he compares Eureka Seven to Evangelion, as that is telling of the high hopes he had for it. As such, when he admits that “guys like him get no work,” one should keep in mind that Sato has already had chances to create anime in the past and is probably feeling a little bitter about those experiences. People are not going to keep throwing money at him, but that’s not to say it isn’t being put to good use elsewhere. Studio Bones produced a very (good) Eureka Seven-esque series in Xam’d: Lost Memories in 2008, while Ergo Proxy‘s animation studio, Manglobe, have animated both House of Five Leaves and Michiko to Hatchin in recent years, both of which are idiosyncratic and, well…, artistic and interesting.

It’s not my intention to discredit Sato‘s comments (I’m a big fan of almost everything he’s ever worked on,) but when he’s quoted as saying something like “anime will die out in Japan in a few decades,” it’s important to question any potential biases in his arguments. I’d love to know if he still watches anime? And, if so, what he made of The Tatami Galaxy and Durarara!!? (Questions likely to go unanswered.) He points to “atmosphere type” (kuuki-kei) anime (with K-On! specifically mentioned, as it so often is) as being the problem, but there’s no acknowledgement of the “difficult-type” (muzukashii-kei) work being done elsewhere.

Anyway, does he have a point? A cursory glance at this summer’s selection hardly inspires one’s confidence in the future of anime, but then, the summer and winter seasons have always seemed a waste land in comparison to the fertile crop of autumn and spring. Comparing anime from ten years ago to now reveals a very clear shift towards cute, slice of life escapism, but more of a concern for me is the continuing decline of the male role-model, the lack of which is a telling sign that something’s a little off, and, indeed, tells of an unhealthy lack of diversity in anime right now.

Will the people inspired to create the anime of tomorrow want to create another K-ON? Or another Cowboy Bebop? The former, I suspect, is what many young Japanese animators would kop to, and that’s what worries me most of all. When I look at these seasonal charts, I’m not looking for girls that look cute, but rather, for characters that look cool. I don’t want cute images to idolise; I want characters that inspire me with their actions. Holland, Renton and Eureka inspired me in Eureka Seven; Jet, Spike, Faye and Ed (plus Ein) inspired me in Cowboy Bebop. It will be the death of anime, for me, personally, when people like Dai Sato can’t get any work, but I’m still enjoying anime enough right now to know we’ve not hit rock bottom just yet.

What do you think?