The Queen of Drama, Mari Okada and How She Saved Anime
During my early teenage years I remember having a conversation with my Mom about her obsession with soap operas, I remember telling her how I never understood why she loved such overly dramatic depictions of usually ridiculous situations that would never happen in real life. (it seems I’ve been a critic since I was 13 lol) Her response to me was “I can assure you one day you will.” Ofcourse I scoffed at that and while I still don’t watch live action soap operas Ive come mighty close to its anime equivalent, with the brilliant works of anime writer Mari Okada.
Okada is a prolific and well decorated screenwriter starting her career as far back as 2001 some of her early notable titles include Basilisk and Rozen Maiden. She first came to mine and most of the anime fandoms knowledge in 2011 after she won the best writer award at the 16th annual Kobe Awards. This firmly put her in the spotlight and she has rarely disappointed from then on.
Okada is a genius at adapting manga into well written screenplays, her work on Toradora! Is a perfect example of this. Toradora! has often and is still regarded as the pinnacle of modern romance, I certainly still believe so which is why it firmly sits unmoved on my top 10 anime list. Mari Okada has gained herself a reputation as a writer of overly dramatic ‘sappy’ material which depending on your tolerance of emotional material can either be a very good thing or the devil spawn that killed anime. Her work is very polarising and she is definitely an eclectic writer. Her work on Fractale and Basilisk are proof of this. Both Basilisk veering heavily on the action side and Fractale just being….well Fractale was a really special anime lets put it that way.
My personal picks of her best work would have to be Horou Musuko also known as Wandering Son and Hanasaku Iroha which just recently had a movie that was also brilliant, arguably better than the series. Horou Musuko was a story about two preteen middle school kids who happened to be transgender. Now as you obviously know this is subject matter that is very rarely handled in popular media, let alone anime. Its a touchy subject and can and has been misrepresented on so many occasions. However, the writing on Horou Musuko (Wandering Son) was so good that it completely changed mine and many other peoples opinion on LGBT rights. Mari Okada adapted the anime’s screenplay en media res which meant that a lot of the back story was skipped since the anime started a few chapters into the manga. This didnt hurt the shows flow but gave it a sense of place and a pacing that was quite unnerving, rushed and anxious, just the perfect atmosphere that these teenagers would be going through during their puberty years.
After tackling such strong subject matter you’d think there wouldn’t be anything more taboo or sensitive to tackle, but not Mari Okada she then went on to write the fan favourite Drama/Comedy Sakurasou. Sakurasou was a show about ‘special’ children, special children or teenagers I should say who are privileged to live in their own boarding house in order to greatly hone their talents. The comedy and drama ensues when our protagonist who is quite normal and has no discerning talents to speak of accidentally gets drafted to this boarding house and is forced to take care of a beautiful autistic artist foreigner.
Now one would argue that autism has been handled with pretty well in anime, why Honey and Clover has a character who is pretty much exactly the same as the one in Sakurasou but the difference between the two is that Sakurasou forced the character to confront her problems with social anxiety, love and school work. Mari Okada was not afraid to show us the heavier stuff and while some may argue that Sakurasou did sometimes play these scenes as gag comedy its hard to argue with the fact that it was still well written and in good spirits.
Ive said this countless times but Hanasaku Iroha’s first 2 episodes are without a doubt the best anime I have ever seen (the 3rd episode was terrible and debunked all the tension and possible subjects the show could have handled but lets not talk about that). Hanasaku Iroha dealt with family issues, specifically the female side of family. The lead character Ohana is a young, very energetic teenager living with her single Mom, Ohana’s Dad ran off on them when she was still a baby and this caused Ohana not to trust men very much. This proves to be a problem when her childhood friend Ko draws the guts to ask her to be his girlfriend and she inconveniently has to leave town to go live with her Grandma who is still mad at her daughter for running off pregnant…yes Drama.
HanaIro is a beautiful coming of age story about a stubborn, entitled but hard working young girl learning to love, trust and work hard enough to become independent. She has to learn how to form bonds with various people, how to break some bonds and even learn some patience and lose her stubborn nature. This is the show that is responsible for making me become a feminist, being raised by a single mom myself I related heavily with some of the situations that these women were forced to go through and unlike the “just make a male character and swap him for a female” solution most “experts” give as an equality measure. Hanairo addresses very female only problems and situations ones only women can go through making it a true must watch.
Her Romance Trifecta AnoHana, Nagi No Asukara and Toradora! are to me the best depiction of teenage love webs Ive seen to to date, especially Toradora! All three shows heavily deal with the subject of unrequited love in a very honest and believable manner. The stories are bittersweet but thats exactly what makes them incredible and memorable. The feelings that Mari Okada’s characters have are sincere sometimes exaggerated for dramatic effect but usually subdued and subtle enough for the untrained eye not to notice. All three of these shows are notorious for being tear jerkers and somehow are more popular with men than women, which is an interesting fact id like to find out more about (perphaps a future article)
Mari Okada is a genius writer, a polarising one but a genius none the less, with a track record of atleast 1 hit show per year she is certainly a writer whose anime we must all look out for.