Sunday, August 23, 2020

REVIEW: Anime Supremacy (book) by Mizuki Tsujimura, translated by Deborah Boliver Boehm

Anime Supremacy is a slice-of-life workplace story. It's licensed by Vertical. I bought my copy brand new.


The book is divided into four chapters (think of them as parts, if the idea of long chapters horrifies you - on the plus side, there are scene breaks that serve as good reading stopping points). The first three are devoted to particular protagonists while the last is an epilogue.

The first chapter deals with Kayako, a producer, who finds that working with the director she most idolizes isn't exactly the dream come true she expected it to be. The second chapter deals with Hitomi, a director working on the sort of series she dreamed about making when she first fell in love with anime. She struggles with getting everyone on her team on the right wavelength - her producer seems more focused on glamor and profits than anything else, and she can't seem to communicate well with the show's primary female voice actors. The third chapter deals with Kazuna, a key animator who finds herself roped into a marketing project she resents and doesn't feel particularly suited for.

All of these characters' paths cross at one point or another, and by the end all of their stories become tied together.

A while back, I went through the "novels" portion of the Right Stuf site and picked out a few relatively appealing non-light novel titles. This was one of them. I honestly wasn't expecting much. The description didn't give me much of an idea of what the book was about, so I figured it'd be a fairly dry sort of edutainment, interesting enough to read through once but destined to end up on my "offload" pile. Instead, I ended up loving it.

This book was basically a love letter to the anime industry and all the people involved in it. I can't find the spot right now, but at one point Kayako was told that there are no bad people in the anime industry (the cynical part of me raised an eyebrow), and that was how Tsujimura opted to depict that world. There were people whose goals and styles didn't gel well, but in the end every show and movie was a team effort that everyone involved wanted to see succeed. 

Tsujimura didn't completely ignore the bad aspects of the industry. The terrible pay, punishing schedule, and long hours all came up. It bugged me that, for the most part, the characters just shrugged these things off as the way the industry worked and would forever work - Kazuna, in particular, seemed to think that just getting to draw was enough, and that proper compensation was a secondary concern. I liked that Hitomi admonished her for that tendency later on, but I never got the impression that the characters thought that the industry as a whole needed to make some changes. So while the "love letter" feel of the book was nice in some ways, it was also a bit problematic.

I found the start of the first story to be incredibly stressful and aggravating. Oji, the director Kayako had idolized and was now working with, acted like a giant spoiled man-child, so intent on his vision that he couldn't seem to delegate anything. Then he disappeared without a word, not even telling Kayako, the one who was supposed to work most closely with him, where he went or when he planned to return. I wondered whether the book would be nonstop "will this show get finished on time?" drama, but this was mostly a slice-of-life workplace story. The pacing was slower than I expected, and the emotional beats softer.

One of the things that Kayako, Hitomi, and Kazuna all had to figure out was how to connect with and trust other people. Seeing Kayako and Oji slowly figure each other out and learn to work together was fun, and I loved watching previously more one-dimensional characters blossom in Hitomi's chapter. There was, thankfully, more to the jealous female voice actors and slick, profit-focused producer than there initially seemed to be. 

The story I most enjoyed, however, was Kazuna's. At the beginning, she was a stereotypical otaku, only interested in 2-D people and worlds and turning her nose up at anyone who didn't share those interests. Then she was roped into helping the local tourism section plan a stamp rally - the town was used as the inspiration for many of the locations in one of the anime series Kazuna had worked on. She found herself paired up with a cheerful jock of a civil servant who'd had little previous exposure to anime, about as far from the kind of person she normally interacted with as possible. I wasn't expecting this story to become as warm and touching as it did.

I appreciated the way Tsujimura set this book up. By focusing on women, she could touch on some of the issues they dealt with that likely wouldn't have been part of their male colleagues' experiences - I wouldn't call this an "issues" book at all, but Kayako had to handle some off-putting comments about her gender and appearance from Oji, Hitomi encountered a situation with fans and the media that I doubt a male director would have had to deal with, and Kazuna struggled with an otaku self-image that didn't allow her to feel comfortable with even the possibility of femininity. 

And since Tsujimura chose three women as her main characters, rather than just one, she could present multiple different kinds of industry work as well as multiple different kinds of stories. Kazuna, for example, really wanted a romantic relationship, while romance didn't even enter Hitomi's mind. One thing I'd particularly like to note: romance didn't automatically equate to women abandoning their careers. And heck, one particularly popular person in the industry turned out to be a single mother.

Even though I felt like this book presented an overly rosy picture of the anime industry, I loved it all the same. I'm really glad that this impulse buy ended up working out so well for me.

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