A while ago, you could read news about this book on matome blogs: Okada Mari, the divisive anime scenario writer is putting out an autobiography. You might know her as the mind behind Ano Hi Mita Hana and many more pieces of melodrama. I’ve been interested in the book since reading the first piece of news about it and not long ago, I bought Gakkou he Ikenakatta Watashi ga “AnoHana” “Kokosake” wo Kaku Made on a whim. Tanaka Masayoshi, a character designer who worked on Kokosake and Kimi no Na wa provided illustrations for it. Okada Mari wrote it all by herself, it’s not a long interview or anything. Which seems pretty incredible if you know what kind of character she is – it must have taken a lot of courage on her part to make this stuff public. You could read the translated table of contents, which has been appearing as a copypasta, if you’d like a vague idea of what her life has been like.
Okada Mari (which isn’t a pseudonym, in case you wondered) was born in a town surrounded by mountains, relatively close to the capital. An awful hickville where everyone knows each other. Her personality was that of a bully magnet – frail and insecure. I won’t be getting into details, but the little bit of abuse she underwent described in the book is terrible enough. Further into elementary school, the abuse she experienced had only been getting worse, so the poor girl was frequently skipping school. And of course the entire village knew of her truancy. When she wasn’t at school, her situation wasn’t much better – when her mother wasn’t ignoring her, she was treating her like trash. Okada wasn’t a conventional victim of bullying – a meek, quiet girl. She had some edge to her – she bore bitter, passive-aggressive thoughts about her surroundings, which she tried to hide from the outside world, but sometimes couldn’t. 内弁慶 is what she calls herself at a point. At school, she was a part of a clique led by a girl playing the other circle members against each other for fun. After suffering through elementary school, she decided she would use the opportunity of entering middle school to radically change her personality. She endured half a year until she couldn’t take the mental burden anymore. Her attempt at being normal is ended by her clique’s leader when she announces to the entire class that in elementary school Okada’s been refusing to go to school. And so, the future writer gives up and stops going to school altogether, appearing there only sporadically. She spends the next few years unproductively, sleeping and consuming nerdy shit. Her mother, shamed by the community, tells her daughter she regrets giving birth to her and once even grabs a knife and rushes at her.
The fifth chapter is all about her mother. She didn’t have an easy life either – she was a victim of a ridiculously strict, hostile family, which was only getting more aggressive the nearer it was to total collapse. A shameless beast of a mother, spiteful siblings and a trashy husband she was eventually forced to divorce. And a daughter she was left with. She had no job and was living off her father’s money, remaining after a successful business he had in his youth.
In middle school, encouraged by her Japanese teacher, Okada Mari writes a composition for a contest and wins – a contrarian, edgelordy text which makes her teacher hate her. She barely graduates middle school after having to cram years of knowledge into her head in a short period of time to make up for the time spent off school. In high school, she tries to get back to normalcy, but the trauma and the effects of being cut off from society for years soon make her attempt fail – she gives up school again. Even now that she’s relatively safe, she can’t help herself – she’s utterly broken. A teacher reaches out to her – gives her books to read and has her write texts, which serves as practice before her future job. When the time comes to graduate, the teacher’s wife tells her of a commune for people who find it hard to live. In the end, however, she takes the risk of failure and chooses to continue education. She signs up for a course in screenwriting in a recently founded video game-related school in Tokyo. To her surprise, she finishes it without problems, surrounded by traumatized, untrusting nerds like herself. The school turns out to be a pretty slapdash affair, trying to somehow educate people in a very new, young domain of knowledge. She entered the school around 1995, at the perfect time when nerdy culture was experiencing a boom and when there was major money in it. Suddenly it turned out that life doesn’t have to be awful. Shortly before graduation, she manages to land a job writing scenarios for v-cine – straight-to-video films produced by shady companies. Around page 160 of this 250 page-long book, Okada Mari’s career starts.
Thanks to her hard work, after a while she was able to live off screenwriting. An impressive achievement for a person who has so much trouble putting up with society. With time, the gigs she was doing were getting more varied. Thanks to some networking, she was also transcribing interviews for magazines, which actually paid more than doing scenarios. Not once and not twice did she experience the shittiness of this business – like not being paid and having to mind the intense competition. At a point, she did a gig digitalizing a handwritten anime screenplay, which eventually landed her a job writing a scenario for a children’s anime. The rest is history, pretty much. Okada Mari was fortunate enough to work in the business in the 2000s when nerd culture was only getting hotter and hotter. Back then, anime based on existing properties were the norm and around 2010 Okada became one of the people responsible for the current trend of publishers betting on originals more often. At thirty, she worked simultaneously on two of her most recognizable, autobiographical works: Hanasaku Iroha, a story of a daughter and mother, and Ano Hi Mita Hana, about a hikikomori boy trying to figure out a childhood trauma. Which featured views from Okada’s hometown. At this point, the title Okada Mari is associated with the most is Kokoro ga Sakebitagatterunda, or Kokosake. It’s a deeply personal story about a girl who lost her voice. It features the mother of the protag, Naruse Jun, watching a school play starring her. The book starts and ends with a screening of it held in her hometown. With Okada’s mother attending, to make things funnier. A screening which had to be called off due to technical problems.
Kokosake wo Kaku Made is a fine read, especially if you enjoy biographies of broken people like I do. It’s written in a rather sophisticated Japanese – it made me look in the dictionary a few times. As expected of a screenwriter. Read it if you ever have the opportunity. You might also want to read Frog-kun’s writeup of the book on ANN. You beat me to it, dude. Not cool. Now excuse me while I go rewatch Kokosake. I didn’t like it the first time. It’s an unintentionally funny piece of melodrama. And it ends on a crack pairing. Still, I’m certain that watching it after learning of its creator’s biography will be a different experience.
(Edit: This book has been translated into English by Frog-kun and published digitally by J-Novel Club in May 2018, so now you don’t necessarily have to read it in Japanese like I did. Its official title is From Truant to Anime Screenwriter: My Path to ‘Anohana’ and ‘The Anthem of the Heart’.)