Aside from the current Western Conference standings,* one of the my favorite lists to look at are the lists of series averaging over 10k in disk sales on someanithing, pre and post Y2K. It’s a list of anime that won the commerce wars over the years, catching the attention of the masses in one way or the other. The database’s extremely cool creator notes on these lists the studios that made their mark on the list.
He doesn’t do the same for staff (writers/directors/composers/etc), which is understandable. Many people work on any given anime, and people can and often do misapportion credit based whose name is at the top of a series’ ann page. Anime production has a lot of moving parts, and it’s gross oversimplification to assume that one person is solely responsible for the product of the work of a 50+ person staff. That said, it’s by no means a worthless pursuit to try and dig deeper into who’s legitimately great at making anime.
Luck may turn a lot of also-rans into one-hit wonders, but it’s hard to win the 10k+ lottery twice. I looked at a sample comprised of 99 non-sequel anime (every non-sequel on the someanithing lists, plus the exceedingly likely to average 10k+ Arpeggio of Blue Steel) and looked for writers whose names showed up more than once. As one might expect, it’s a small list. Over the entire history of anime, only 17 writers have ever helmed multiple 10k+ franchises out of the gate. The 7 to have helmed 3 or more are listed below, along with their first credit and major works.
This is not meant to be a comprehensive list of all great writers ever. It’s just one way of looking at available statistics – there are many factors that matter to the success of an anime. That said, writing multiple grand-slams is a good rule of thumb classifier for distinguishing those scriptwriters that have something beyond luck on their side. I’m making this list for two reasons other than those mentioned above. One, many of these people get treated as relative no-names, and recognizing people who make big contributions is important. Two, I’m interested in writer career arcs; how did they start off, when did they hit it big, what else is on their resumes.
I don’t know if any of this will ultimately end up being useful. With that being said, let’s recognize some history. Each of the 17 writers meeting the criteria above is listed along with the first show they are (in some capacity) credited for, their big hit works, recent work, and less notable work**. The data used to compile this list was acquired via the animenewsnetwork database, and is listed on this doc.
Two Important Notes About The Classification: First, I only included non-sequel anime when looking for head writers. This means nothing with some manifestation of a 2 in the title. Ditto for Gundam or Macross franchise entries after the original. My rationale is that it’s a lot harder to make a prime-time anime from scratch, even with popular source material, than it is to continue living in a house someone else built. I count A Certain Scientific Railgun and Mononoke as spinoffs rather than sequels, as the series they spun off of are considerably less well-established franchises.
Also, I did not credit any writer if the credit was split 3 or more ways and I was unable to discern a clear head of the project. For example, Hakuouki’s ANN page credits 4 scriptwriters, 3 of which worked on multiple episodes. Giving props to all of them for what was possibly a script-by-committee feels like over-distributing credit.
Writers With 4 10k+ Anime:
First Credited On: Brave Fighter of the Sun Fighbird (1991)
10k+ Series: Air (2005), Kanon (2006), Clannad (2007), Infinite Stratos (2011)
Less Notable Work: Gravion, Burst Angel
Recent Work: Golden Time, Mikakunin de Shinkoukei
First Credited On: Tenchi Muyo-The Night Before the Carnival (1993)
10k+ Series: Infinite Ryvius (1999), Please Teacher (2002), Honey and Clover (2005), Big Windup (2007)
Less Notable Work: Maken-ki, Ring ni Kakero
Recent Work: Gundam Build Fighters, Super Sonico
Writers With 3 10k+ Anime:
First Credited On: Turn A Gundam (1999)
10k+ Series: Azumanga Daiou (2002), Mahou Sensei Negima (2005), Code Geass (2006)
Less Notable Work: Overman King Gainer, Shigofumi
Recent Work: Valvrave the Liberator
First Credited On: Slayers (1995)
10k+ Series: Steins Gate (2011), Chuu2koi (2012), Love Live (2013)
Less Notable Work: Popotan, H2O
Recent Work: Kyoukai no Kanata
First Credited On: DT Eightron (1998)
10k+ Series: Black Butler (2008), Toradora (2008), Ano Hana (2011)
Less Notable Work: Venus to Mamoru, Kodomo no Jikan
Recent Work: Nagi no Asukara
First Credited On: Moomin (1969)
10k+ Series: Lupin III (1971), Future Boy Conan (1978), Armored Trooper Votoms (1983)
Less Notable Work: Bit the Cupid, Monkey Magic
Recent Work: Garon the Guardian (movie, 2013)
First Credited On: Hell Teacher Nube (1996)
10k+ Series: Shakugan no Shana (2005), Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure (2012), Attack on Titan (2013)
Less Notable Work: Pita Ten, Yume Tsukai
Recent Work: See 10k+ series above
The writers with 2 10k+ hits on their resume will follow in a later post. I had initially intended for this to be a one-off post, but it’s getting long as-is, and there’s enough interesting stuff to be analyzed***, that this is probably going to be worth splitting up into more manageable chunks. One for the rest of the list, and one for commentary.
*It’s worth mentioning that James Harden is a win machine.
**A catch-all category for works unlikely to be cited on a seasonal preview of a show said writer is working on. A narrative is easier to build when you use the sexier/spectacular examples, but being interesting sure as hell doesn’t make something true.
***Notably the lag time some writers see between first job and first hit; it took 16 years for Jukki Hanada, among others. That’s a 16-year interval over which it seems in hindsight ridiculous to have questioned his ability to produce for a big hit. I don’t want to argue the outcomes too hard (some writers have long careers without being quite so successful), just to point out that the fact that it takes time for a writer to make a splash doesn’t mean they can’t make a big one.
I’ll get into this, but I have a theory there’s an equilibrium point when it becomes more or less fair to judge a writer (or director) on their existing body of work. One of my goals in this project is to roughly outline when that milestone might be.