Creator Chemistry in A Whisker Away

The Japanese anime film A Whisker Away caught my attention early on due to its writer-director combination of Okada Mari and Sato Jun’ichi. Okada has worked on some of my favorite anime, including A Woman Called Mine Fujiko and Aquarion EVOL. Sato has helmed numerous masterpieces, especially in the magical girl realm—Sailor Moon, Princess Tutu, Kaleidostar, Ojamajo Doremi, Hugtto! Precure, among others However, this is not the first time they’ve worked together, and their last collaboration, M3: The Dark Metal, was mixed at best. Their strengths as creators are total opposites in a certain sense, which can make for a brilliant chemical reaction or an explosive mess. In the case of A Whisker Away, the combination succeeds.

A Whisker Away follows a girl named Sasaki Miyo, whose crush on her boy classmate Hinode Kento only seems to irritate him. What Kento doesn’t know, however, is that the stray cat he loves so much, Tarou, is actually Miyo in disguise through the power of feline magic. Key to the film are the desire to understand and to be understood.

When I say that Okada and Sato have opposite strengths, what I mean is that the two specialize in very different expressions of emotion. The writer’s works are all characterized by melodramatic floods of powerful emotions (especially at the climax), while the director’s greatest strength is conveying small and intimate emotions whether the setting is humble or grandiose. It is a challenge for both types of emotional expression to exist in the same space without smothering each other, and as I discussed years ago on the Veef Show podcast, this is one of the problems with M3: The Dark Metal

I think what makes the newer work click in contrast to their previous title is that both Okada-style and Sato-style emotional expression are able to coexist. The film has moments for both styles to shine, especially given the numerous scenes of quiet introspection and frustration juxtaposed with loud and bombastic outbursts from the heart. It also doesn’t hurt that cute but trying teenage romance is the wheelhouse of both creators.

Given this long trend of two whole films, I am eager to see what comes from the next Okada-Sato joint effort. Now that I know this team can pull it off, I have high hopes that the third time around will be spectacular. In the meantime, A Whisker Away is worth a watch.

One-Track Minds: O Maidens in Your Savage Season

I recently finished the anime O Maidens in Your Savage Season, a charming but emotionally raw look at the girls of a high school literature club struggling with discovering their own romantic and sexual desires. It’s based on a manga by the same name, but the adaptation process has a bit of an unusual wrinkle to it. The manga is written by Okada Mari—an anime scriptwriter (The Woman Called Mine Fujiko, AnoHana: The Flower We Saw That Day)—and the anime’s scriptwriter is, well, Okada Mari. 

Rarely does something like this happen, and the closest example I can think of is Yasuhiko “Yaz” Yoshikazu, who went from being the character designer on Mobile Suit Gundam to adapting the anime to the Gundam: The Origin manga to seeing the The Origin adapted into an anime. What this means is that O Maidens in Your Savage Season is built from the ground up by Okada, and that it is essentially a distillation of the very narrative structure she’s built her career on.

Without going into any major spoilers, nowhere is this more evident than the final episode, when after grappling with their messy emotions episode after episode, all of the major characters gather in one place and let all their true thoughts out loudly and passionately. This sort of climax is the very essence of Okada’s work in anime across genres and themes. AnoHana: The Flower We Saw That Day (heart-wrenching teen drama), The Woman Called Mine Fujiko (surreal feminist character re-imaginging) M3: The Dark Metal (brooding psychological mecha), Anthem of the Heart (a story of processing childhood trauma), Aquarion EVOL (over-the-top mecha series as sex allegory), and Mayoiga: The Lost Village (uhhh…still not sure?) can be very different from one another, but they all head in a similar direction by the end.

There’s a certain beat-you-over-the-head obviousness with this approach, but at the very least, Okada’s stronger works incorporate that blunt firehose spray of pent-up feelings in more creative and satisfying ways. O Maidens in Your Savage Season builds up to that point successfully, and reminds me a bit of Anthem of the Heart, which I love and hold up as peak Okada.

Because so many of these works wind up with all the central players in one place shouting how they feel at one another, it can sometimes come across as contrived, unrealistic, or perhaps even condescending. However, like in O Maidens in Your Savage Season, these series often feature characters who spend the vast majority of their stories avoiding uncomfortable confrontation, whether to spare their own feelings or the feelings of others. Having these forces all clash together can be very cathartic beyond simply that emotional release, as you get to see a bunch of anime teenagers be direct for once. 

O Maidens in Your Savage Season is far less fantastical than many of Okada’s other series, but it makes those small-stakes anxieties both entertaining and suffocatingly real. It’s both light and heavy at the same time, and this contrast makes for a memorable and creative work.

Kiznaiver vs. M3: The Dark Metal – Review and Comparison


Human communication and the overt expression of emotion/trauma: when it comes to anime writer Okada Mari, many of her works explore these two thmes. Just this past spring, two of her shows—Kiznaiver and The Lost Village—did so in spades, but I found myself comparing the former to another, lesser-known title of Okada’s, titled M3: The Dark Metal.


In a previous discussion of M3: The Dark Metal as a guest on the Veef Show podcast, I mentioned that the show felt like two conflicting forces were at work, the more down-to-earth directorial style of Satou Jun’ichi clashing with the high melodrama of Okada. The ultimate message of M3: The Dark Metal is that being able to see straight into people’s minds won’t necessarily solve problems of communication (and might even create new ones), and that we as people should do our best to connect with each other using the tools and senses we have already. It thus provides a counterargument to a notion most famously found in Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Kiznaiver takes a similar angle, forcibly connecting its characters through a bond of pain; when one gets hurt, it gets evenly distributed to the rest of them. Ostensibly a way to help people learn to empathize, the story reveals that it ironically did the opposite in early cases. Like M3: The Dark Metal, the characters realize that they need to learn to communicate as they are, though in the case of Kiznaiver the bonding mechanism ultimately helps more than hurts. Another similarity exists between the characters Heita (M3) and Hisomu (Kiznaiver), the sadisme of the former contrastng with the masochism of the latter.

The big difference between the two series is visual flair. M3 is plainly animated, and takes place in a world of monsters and giant robots. Most of it is dark and brooding. Kiznaiver is bright and colorful, and filled to the brim with the dynamic facial expressions, sleek character designs, and overall frenetic aesthetic of Studio Trigger. In this respect, Kiznaiver does a much better job of meshing with Okada’s writing style, though I do hope to see her try and write another giant robot anime.

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[Apartment 507] Top 10 Mari Okada Anime

Love her or hate her, Okada Mari’s got quite a resume of anime at this point. I’ve written about what I think are her best works, and I’m curious to what extent people think I’m out of my mind.