Happy International Women’s Day, everyone! In honor of the day, we here at BtT are excited to celebrate some of our favorite women working in anime, manga, and light novels.
This is our second year marking the holiday in this way. When I started this project last year, I was under the impression that these industries were still pretty much a man’s game, with just a handful of women managing to rise to prominent roles. That’s the stereotype, right? And it’s true that these industries are not exactly winning any awards for basic things like representation, pay equity, or support for parental leave or childcare provision. The industry has a long way to go before these kinds of things become the standard. (Which is partly why studios like KyoAni stand out so much for how they flourish in these vital areas! Check out last year’s post for more on this!)
But you know what I’ve learned in the year since the inaugural IWD post? There are actually a lot of women in key roles, leading the creation and production of our favorite works of anime, manga and light novels. A LOT! We just don’t realize who they are. That’s why we’re excited to continue this series today, so that we at BtT can do our bit to shine a little light on these wonderful creatives and honor the hard work they’ve done for our entertainment and edification!
So here is a celebration of a few more women who, like last year’s line-up, have touched our hearts, tickled our funny bones, and dazzled our eyes with their work, and who have each, in her own way, made our lives just that little bit richer.
Eunyoung Choi embodies the new era of anime—anime that is resonating with a global audience, bringing together diverse cultures, and pursuing innovation. Having grown up and studied for a degree in art in South Korea, Choi relocated to London for postgraduate studies, where she traded her background in painting and sculpture for a newfound interest in character animation. From there, it was off to Tokyo to join the anime industry, first at Gonzo, then heading up the Japanese branch of French studio Ankama, before finally landing a spot working with Masaaki Yuasa at Madhouse. The two shared a vision for developing unique stylistics that combined classic hand-drawn and digital animation and could appeal to international audiences, and in 2013 at Choi’s suggestion, they founded Science SARU with that pursuit in mind. From the outset, Choi and Yuasa sought to recruit and nurture talent gathered from around the world, placing multiculturalism at the heart of both their staffing practices and their projects, with series like Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! and Japan Sinks: 2020, in particular, being celebrated for foregrounding cultural diversity and inclusivity more fully than the source material. On the flip side, works like Yuasa’s rock opera Inu-Oh and The Heike Story, the first anime to air abroad in its entirety prior to its Japanese release, rendered Japanese classics of the 12th century not just palatable to a global audience, but captivating as well. In addition to serving as producer on virtually all of Yuasa’s films (she has been called his “right-hand woman” and “most trustworthy ally”), Choi still makes time for an occasional return to directing herself, as with her critically acclaimed episode, “Akakiri”, which featured in the first season of Star Wars: Visions. But most of her time these days is devoted to helming the studio, since Yuasa stepped down in 2020 to focus on directing. Under her solo leadership, Science SARU has begun to work with other directors as well, including Naoko Yamada of KyoAni fame. And if the past year’s productions are anything to go by, the second decade of Science SARU looks very promising indeed!
claire: There is something about people like Choi that I really admire: professionals who are insanely talented and accomplished in their own right, and yet who dedicate their time, talent, and effort to supporting, partnering with, and raising up others in their field as well. I came to know of Choi’s work through her collaboration with Naoko Yamada, specifically on the latter’s most recent short film, Garden of Remembrance, which came about from a suggestion by Choi and a brainstorming session the two shared. And the more I’ve learned of the heart behind Science SARU, the more excited I’ve become to see where Choi will take the studio next.
twwk: Every time an announcement for a new anime from Science SARU drops, I get excited. It’s the only studio that makes me feel this way. Choi and Yuasa have genuinely carved something new out of the anime studio sphere, something exciting and original, and this remains true as Choi has taken the reins over fully. I hold such reverence for her as a studio head and producer both, but seeing her work on “Akakiri” from Star Wars: Visions also made me aware of her talent as a director. She introduces diversity into that series in a natural and engaging way while creating a tale that’s very Japanese and still very Star Wars. It’s also possibly the best of that anthology’s shorts. Is there anything that Eunyoung Choi can’t do?
The Sailor Moon Eternal films premiered with plenty of expectation and acclaim, and fans, too, are clamoring for their sequel films, Sailor Moon Cosmos. Few would have expected this level of excitement for the final parts of Sailor Moon Crystal, the franchise makeover that was D.O.D. So how did things turn around? It was in large part due to Chiaki Kon, the director of the series’ third season. She breathed new life into a moribund franchise and set it on the right path, changing the destiny of the remake and satisfying old and new fans alike. But while Kon is perhaps best known for her work on that show and season of another magical girl anime, Pretty Cure, her resume is extensive. Kon started out as an intern at Studio Pierrot in the late 90s before working full-time on anime and moving into directorial work, her debut being on Higurashi When They Cry. She subsequently took the lead on anime like Junjo Romantica, seasons of Naruto and Nodame Cantabile, and one of our favorites here at BtT, Golden Time. And there’s no slowing this genius down—she’s currently at work directing Sacrificial Princess and the King of Beast and recently finished cours of two of the acclaimed comedies of recent years: The Way of the Househusband and Play It Cool, Guys. Kon’s obviously not playing it cool—with dozens of credits to her name, she remains on fire, 25 years after stepping into an anime office for the first time.
twwk: I’m struck by how diverse Kon’s work is. Shoujo, horror, magical girl, comedy, shounen—she’s practically done it all (and done it all well). She’s also filled my anime journey with such warmth and charm from my formative years right to the present. I grew up “under her direction,” from being a nervous barely-adult watching Higurashi to enjoying The Way of the House Husband with my family. Many of her series cross over or near the line of classic anime, and as I mentioned above, she’s not done yet.
Laura: I had absolutely no idea that Chiaki Kon had worked on so many different anime! Knowing that she has worked on The Way of the Househusband and Play It Cool, Guys (which was one of my favorite manga last year!), I am all the more excited for the anime adaptation of Sacrificial Princess and the King of Beasts! Having read the manga last year and deeply enjoyed it, I am even more excited for this upcoming anime because I officially know it is in good hands and will have its deep themes and beautiful romance portrayed wonderfully on screen!
Kiyoko Sayama got her start in anime as a storyboarder in the early 90s for Studio Junio, and although that little studio didn’t see out the decade, Sayama certainly did! Having left Junio in the mid-90s (but not before meeting her husband, a character designer there, and rising the ranks to episode director), Sayama has since carved out a prolific freelance career with studios like Madhouse, J.C. Staff, and Production I.G. She continued working as a storyboarder on prominent series such as Nana, Death Note, and Hunter x Hunter, while also combing that role with directorial duties on series including Blood+, Aria the Natural, Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit, and Princess Tutu, and also directing Skip Beat!, Amanchu! Advance, and the currently airing second season of To Your Eternity. Sayama’s diverse track record goes to show that in the anime industry, there are many routes to the director’s chair.
claire: I came across Sayama’s name by chance, but the more I looked into her work, the more impressed I was! She played a key role in storyboarding and directing many of my favorite series from the 2000s, particularly Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit. There’s something about the visual storytelling in that series that strikes the perfect balance between grand-scale epic adventure and small-scale, intimate family drama so perfectly, combining sweeping vistas with tight camera angles in confined spaces that serves as such a powerful metaphor for the young Prince’s life, both revered heir and ruler and captive to duty. Beautiful!
Josh: I owe a PRODIGIOUS thanks to Claire for bringing it to my attention that Sayama was involved in two of my favorite anime series: Moribito and Aria the Natural. Claire, if you’re reading this, I owe you a Coke and a Po’Boy if you ever come down to Louisiana. But I digress. One thing I noticed about many of the shows that Sayama works on is that the female leads are solid and complex. Whether it’s watching Balsa from Moribito kick all kinds of butt in defense of her young charge Chagum or watching Aika from Aria deal with her feelings for the gnome Al, Sayama has a way of giving these characters a depth that, in my humble opinion, was missing in a lot of female protags in anime at the time.
Yaso Hanamura started out in animation, working for Production I.G in the heyday of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. She was, in fact, the lone inbetweener of the team that founded the new sub-studio for the series, where she rubbed shoulders with the likes of Kenji Kamiyama, director of GitS:SAC, Kyoji Asano, character designer and animation director for Attack on Titan, and Chica Umino, mangaka of Honey and Clover (whose nickname for the young animator became the basis of her eventual pen name, Yaso). All of these figures and more make guest appearances in Hanamura’s manga series Animeta!, which does for animators what Shirobako does for production assistants. The series follows a young inbetweener trying to make it at a prestigious animation studio, relying on passion and a willingness to forego weekends, evenings, and sleep in general as she desperately seeks to level up her skills and make enough to feed herself on the paltry pay. Pretty easy to see where Hanamura got her inspiration! Animeta! has been on hiatus recently, but the five volumes out so far reveal an artist with a cinematic eye for paneling, perspective, and backgrounds, and an attention to detail in the characterization, writing and art that speaks to her ongoing love for animation and the people who make it. The leap from animation to manga is a risky one, but we’re glad she took it!
claire: I came across Animeta! quite by chance and my goodness am I ever glad I did! Not only is it ridiculously well-crafted and entertaining, but it is also a whole education in animation that I didn’t even realize I needed. As a fan of Shirobako and a regular reader of “behind the scenes” discussions of animation production, I thought I had a handle on the processes involved in animation. But Hanamura’s work put me to shame, while at the same time filling in all that I was missing. This should be required reading for any aniblogger or anime otaku worth their salt!
stardf29: Yes, more people need to read Animeta! I read this as part of my J-Novel Club subscription, and it was definitely an interesting choice for the light novel publisher’s early forays into manga, especially since it has no ties to any light novel. Make no mistake, though: this is an excellent work. Not only does it present an in-depth look at what goes on in an animation studio, but it also shows just how hard animation work can be, especially when you get in on the ground floor and have to work your way up. It’s every bit as much a story of overcoming obstacles as you work towards your dream, which I have to believe is a reflection of Hanamura’s own life story.
Laura: It has been quite some time since I read Animeta!, but despite the year (or two?) that has passed since I read this, I still distinctly remember scenes from the first volume! Seeing the work that goes into just seconds of animation gave me a much stronger appreciation for real-life animators and how they bless us with the anime we have today. In fact, it’s so good an insight into animation that I decided to give it to an author friend of mine who was deeply interested in creating mini animations of her novels and manga. I echo what’s been said that this is a great manga that is very eye-opening to the industry and creates a general awareness of just how hard it is to be an animator.
A deeply private individual, she rarely makes public appearances and the only images of her this author was able to find were either a handful of old photographs or a few self-portraits. Her creative work, however, speaks for itself. She got her start publishing under the pen name “Fumio Agata” in a doujinshi (self-published) group called “Lady Maid”, before breaking into professional manga with Shirley and achieving her first major success with Emma (both of which star Victorian-era maids). Her work is distinguished by meticulously researched and gorgeously intricate illustrations of locations and clothing, an aspect which she raised to an entirely new level in her ongoing manga A Bride’s Story, which chronicles the lives of several young women living along the old Silk Road. She has won multiple Japanese manga awards, and even received an “Intergenerational Award” at the 2012 Angouleme International Comics Festival in France.
WacOtaku: I’m not a big reader of Shojo or Josei romance manga—give me the gritty action and philosophical brooding of Vinland Saga or the swashbuckling adventures of Drifting Dragons any day—but for Kaoru Mori’s work I will gladly make an exception. Her otherworldly artistic skills have already been mentioned (and I’ll die on the hill that she draws the most beautiful women in the business) but the great gentleness and delicacy that she brings to her writing should not be overlooked. Just as an example, the couple at the center of A Bride’s Story is an arranged marriage between a 20-year-old woman and a 12-year-old boy (remember, the manga takes place in 19th-century Central Asia), and she actually manages to make it feel sweet and tender instead of creepy and gross. In short, she’s the goddess of historical romance manga. I should throw in an addendum, though, that she isn’t against drawing her female characters in “an advanced state of undress” when it makes sense in context. She approaches such content with enough self-control that it doesn’t come across as cheap titillation, but your mileage may vary.
Josh: This is going to sound really silly, but when I sit down and watch Emma: A Victorian Romance, I can’t help but think that this show would fit right in on PBS. This show, and the series as a whole, feels like an animated version of Downton Abbey or Call the Midwife. It captures the feel of the Victorian era perfectly. Kaoru Mori has done a prodigious job of making this series feel less like a typical Japanese anime. And her character designs are just AWESOME. I’ve literally seen nothing quite like it; the lady knows how to draw maids.
Samuru: As Josh already mentioned above, Emma: A Victorian Romance reminds me of those TV series with distinguished English gentlemen, ladies with large dresses, and fans while traveling on carriages. Kaoru’s relaxing artwork and historical setting are what drew me in years ago when I first saw the series. I don’t even remember how I found the anime adaptation since it is not a genre that interests me, but since it was set in beautiful London and had less going on than the action/adventure series I often enjoy, it was a nice change. I am not sure how accurate it is in terms of locations, attire, society, and the sort but I like to pretend it is since I’m watching anime, not a documentary. If you have not had the opportunity to watch it, I hope you would check it out.
Laura: Kaoru Mori’s work is one I haven’t personally read, but I feel is very consistently recommended in the manga community. And rightfully so, seeing her art here! With the recent reprints Yen Press did of Emma, I regret that I didn’t join the many friends I know who grabbed it when it was more easily available. Thankfully I know my library has at least A Bride’s Story, so I can experience the beauty her art is always praised for because hearing WacOtaku share, I realize I am really missing out on these wonderful stories!
Learning to draw at the age of two and writing her own manga from the age of eight, Kore Yamazaki is a prodigy whose work demonstrates a delight in worlds seen and unseen, as well as a deep appreciation for the past. This delightful mangaka creates stories intended to be straightforward, but that doesn’t mean her works are simple; they are full of complexity and imagination, best demonstrated through the fantastic worldbuilding and thematic richness of The Ancient Magus’ Bride. Selling millions of copies and receiving a successful anime adaptation (returning this April for a second season), this series showcases Yamazaki’s understanding of the pessimistic aspects of human nature hidden in us—selfishness, conceit, exploitive behavior, and self-pity—as well as the wonders within and around us. Yamazaki is also a keen researcher: her limited-run series guidebook, The Ancient Magus’ Bride Supplement, demonstrates the great care she took in adapting myth and folklore within the pages of her manga, explaining her process even panel by panel. While Yamazaki continues to work on her most well-known series, she’s also developed others, including Frau Faust and the ongoing series, Ghost and Witch.
twwk: Manga’s adoration of western fantasy and myth is much like its love affair with Christianity—it dips in and takes what it needs without demonstrating a deeper understanding of the original narratives. Yamazaki could have done the same with The Ancient Magus Bride, perhaps to great success, but as the aforementioned Supplement indicates, she is obsessive about her research, and though she goes the way of the storyteller and makes the old stories her own, her adaptations feel absolutely as if they belong in Britain rather feeling transplanted, as many other manga do. She’s able to at once blend east and west in her great series, creating a unique treasure. What a wonderful artist!
claire: Well, Twwk kind of stole my thunder here, but as the resident Brit on the team, I have to agree! As the British anime magazine NEO recently expressed, Yamazaki is popular in the UK—and it has to do with the thrill of seeing your country’s folklore and landscape come to life in a way that is not merely tokenistic (or “English for the Purposes of Anime,” as I like to call it), but actually engages with the cultural and religious heritage thoughtfully. I initially gave The Ancient Magus’ Bride a miss due to the setup (fifteen-year-old Chise is purchased by the magus to be his “bride”), but later revisited it and I am glad I did, as things were not what they seemed at first and instead the series has proven to be a thoughtful reflection on humanity and inhumanity. Also, Yamazaki’s artwork is stunning.
By transcending the usual medium of the light novelist, Yuyuko Takemiya has demonstrated that a writer in the anime and manga industry need not be bound by those media. Diversity is as much a hallmark of her career as is the romantic comedy genre she’s renowned for. Erupting on the scene in September 2004 with both the debut of her first light novel series, Our Tamura-kun, and the bishoujo game, Noel, for which she developed the scenario, Takemiya gained fame for her next light novel series, Toradora, which received ten volumes and three spin-offs. It was followed in 2010 by another beloved romcom, Golden Time. Takemiya also worked on the manga for the adaptations of all three light novel series, as well as an original, Evergreen, before leaving the world of anime-style writing for more traditional fiction. She has released seven novels since 2016. None have been released in an English translation in the west, where she remains best known for Toradora and Golden Time, both of which are now considered classics.
twwk: Every once and a while, I’ll do a Google search for “Yuyuko Takemiya novel translation,” to see if any of her post-light novel works have made their way to the U.S. And again and again, I’m let down by the results. I continue to hope that more of her work will be exposed to the anime community here in the west, but even if all we’re left with are her famous, early works, her legacy is secured. Toradora remains a high point for romcom anime and light novels and for this writer, a key work for securing my obsession with anime and opening my curiosity about light novels.
claire: Full disclosure: I haven’t actually completed watching the anime adaptation of Toradora. But that’s actually why I feel qualified to add a little blurb here in praise of Takemiya’s work: I cannot finish this series because it is breaking my heart. I found the second female lead, Minorin, and her arc so compelling that I can’t bear to watch the inevitable play out and see her disappointed in love. To me, this is the mark of truly skillful writing—when that distance between the audience and the characters collapses and you feel so deeply for the protagonists that your heart breaks with them.
If Mamoru Hosoda is the man with the ideas, Satoko Okudera is the woman who brings the concepts to life for film. The screenwriter and frequent Hosoda collaborator graduated from Tokai University with a degree in literature, but labored at an oil company before becoming a full-time writer. Her early scripts were exclusively live-action, including the award-winning Ohikkoshi (1993) and Gakko no Kaidan (1995), for which Okudera won the Japan Academy Film Prize for Screenplay of the Year. She followed up with other scripts, including sequels to Gakko no Kaidan, before partnering with Hosoda by writing the screenplay for his breakthrough film, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (2006). Additional screenplays followed, including two more Hosoda films and other anime. She continues to write for TV and film, with recent credits including those for Saiai and Kawa no hotori de.
twwk: There’s a grittiness to Satoko Okudera’s anime work that makes sense when you realize she’s a writer crossing over into the anime medium, highly accomplished for a decade before her first anime screenplay. And thus a movie with cute sequences set to whimsical music, like TGWLTT, features banter between its group of three adolescents that’s sometimes crude and rude like you’d expect to hear from real high schoolers. The conversation in the Jinnouchi family is familiar and fast; they are the centerpiece of Summer Wars, and Okudera’s dialogue makes them absolutely believable as regular people with extraordinary determination bred from their familial ties. And Wolf Children, perhaps the masterpiece among these, is unexpected, sad, bitter, and real; it is an adult drama, harsh but always, always filled with a fierce love. These are three of the best screenplays in all anime and they’re all from one woman—the incomparable Satoko Okudera.
claire: I’ll second that! What I appreciate most about Okudera’s screenwriting are the subtle ways in which she subverts expectations. Film plots need to hit certain beats at certain points in the timecode, but what I found with the films twwk has mentioned is that the requisite hiccups, twists, and tensions that lend rhythm to a 90-minute narrative are never quite what I anticipate with Okudera. There’s a twist, but it turns to the left and not the more predictable right; there’s a ramping up of tension as resolution is delayed yet again at the three-quarter mark, but it comes from a different direction than I assumed. This makes for an inviting watch that keeps you on the edge of your seat through the sheer force of writing, rather than special effects or other bombastic features.
Erika Yoshida is a bit like a Swiss army knife: she can write in any format. Not only is she one of those rare screenwriters who has as many live-action television and film writing credits to her name as anime series, but she’s also written for radio and the stage, and has a number of manga and novels under her belt as well. Her earliest work was in anime, writing scripts and then penning the manga adaptation for Tiger & Bunny (and subsequently the script for the second film), before quickly stepping up to series composition for several fantasy series, including Tower of God. But it was her recent foray into music anime that really proved her ambidexterity and skill as a writer, while showcasing how crossover writers like herself have a lot to offer the anime industry. This series? Oh, just a little something called Bocchi the Rock! All this in a career spanning barely twelve years! Yoshida is one to watch.
claire: What I appreciate most about Yoshida’s work is her skill for pacing. To my view, she sorted out the fundamental flaw of the Webtoon source material for Tower of God, which I could never manage to stick with for long as it went off on discursive side quests, willy-nilly. Not so with the anime adaptation, which remains tight and focused. Meanwhile, the pacing in Bocchi the Rock is really clever: The series ends not with the obvious (cheap) climax of the band’s festival performance, but with Bocchi going to the music store with her bandmates. Why was this so brilliant? Well, as much as performing had been the band’s goal throughout the series, it is actually the music store trip that is the real victory for Bocchi, because her whole reason for joining the band and performing in the first place is to make friends. That trip to the store together is proof positive that her heart’s dream has been achieved. (Also, guitar shops are the most intimidating venue for a sixteen-year-old girl so surviving that unscathed is an even greater victory! Speaking from experience.) In short, Yoshida took a 4-koma gag comic and transformed it into something with the dramatic pacing of an epic. Well done!
sleepminusminus: A friend of Hitori is a friend of mine—but maybe that means I too have no friends? In any case, to jump on that last point, the superb adaptation of Bocchi the Rock! from 4-koma to tv format should thoroughly convince you of Yoshida’s screenwriting prowess. The manga thrives off a delicate balance between character drama and zany comedy, which it can pull off in part because of its gag format—four panels of a serious moment here, four of a ridiculous Bocchi-melting scene there. Yet to understand this balance so well that you’re able to extrapolate it to a full-blown series? That’s nothing short of spectacular. I look forward to seeing what she’s got in her pen over the next few years.
We hope you enjoyed hanging out with us and a few of our favorite women creatives. Who are your favorites? Do you have anyone you’d like to nominate for next year? Let us know in the comments below!