Mari Okada’s writing borders on the abstract at times. The characters and dialogues she creates on her own are layered with more than one meaning or purpose behind them, while scripts that she adapts are often tempered with the fiery passion of a teenage girl. For me, such a convention goes one of two ways. One is that the script ends up supplementing a scenario that actually fits her style, creating delicate yet deep character relationships that uses subtlety in a tasteful manner, enhancing the story in a fresh direction. On the other hand, in scenarios where this concept doesn’t work, where the story is either too simple or too blatant in plot development, the dialogue comes off as vague, heavy-handed, and unrealistic. Sometimes to the point of laughability. Over the years I’ve had the pleasure (and the misfortune) of watching anime that I feel cover a wide spectrum of Mari Okada’s potential.
If you want a truncated version of this post, you can just hop on over to MAL and hunt for all the anime you know are written by Mari Okada and just go on your happy little life knowing which things I consider shit or god tier. However, for the sake of clarification and a bit of self-curiosity on my part as to why I rank them this way, allow me to entertain you a bit. Here is an ordered list of anime (I’ve watched) that are written by Mari Okada.
10. Fate/stay night (Rating on MAL: 3/10)
I have not watched this anime for nearly seven years and I fully intend to keep that trend running long into the future. Fate/stay night’s writing can be credited to both an unjust mutilation of the original story (via the unholy splicing of all three routes of the VN) and somehow managing to make Shirou out as even more of a misogynist pig than he already was in the source material. The setting reeked of SOCOOL (giving setup to the much-superior Fate/Zero) and the animation was actually pretty okay for a Studio DEEN work, but the story ruined everything about this show forever. The younger version of me was all over this, and now the memories have all but disappeared, replaced with disappointment and the tinges of regret.
Maybe if they threw away all the high school anime hijinks and just went balls to the wall with the action scenes like the Unlimited Blade Works movie did, then I’d have a much better opinion of this show. But noooooooo, we need genderbent King Arthur to go on a date, subject herself to the whims of her man and revitalize her mana supply through, uh, furious dry-humping. Oh, and the third wheel childhood friend needs to sport some S&M cosplay to represent her inner fear about her estranged sister. Also, we’re gonna nee- Guys? Come back, this is really deep and important shit we have to get through in order for the story to- GUYS PLEASE.
9. Canaan (Rating on MAL: 6/10)(Credits: Script/Series Composition)
Most of my issues with this show stem from how ridiculously the plot unfolded as the episodes went on, only to end somewhat uneventfully compared to how it all built up. On the other hand, there’s Maria. Hopelessly naive protagonists are nothing especially new in terms of anime or even storytelling in general, but Maria took this concept into the stratosphere and basically stayed there the entire time. That’s not even my main problem with how she’s handled. Her ideas about the world are a bit askew from reality, yet the story tries its damnedest to prove them right by keeping her alive. Couple that in with some ridiculous plot maneuvers to keep that trend running and all of a sudden I’ve lost interest in the story. T’was pretty entertaining to watch, though, and the animation kept me engaged.
Canaan’s spot at number 9 says much less a criticism of the script but instead more about how much I don’t care for these types of “beacon of innocence in a world of darkness” stories. Especially when that beacon of innocence is a Maria Sue. I JUST CAN’T. I SOWWY.
8. Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo (Rating on MAL: 5/10)[Credits: Script (eps 1-2, 4, 12, 17, 23-24)/Series Composition]
For all intents and purposes, most of my problems with this show aren’t even scripted by Mari Okada. This reflects how emotionally contrived the story got based on the source material alone, and boy does it get a bit whiny every now and then. Bringing a Mari Okada script to the mix is icing on the cake of tears, but there were other things that could keep me distracted from that. The mix of wacky characters in Sakurasou were exceedingly colorful and engaging, making them much more of a joy to watch than I had initially expected. The plot itself was interesting to the point of me being willing to sit through all the whining and tear-shedding just to see whether or not they actually change as people or even succeed. Of course, few people in Sakurasou actually succeed individually, but if the point is getting people together in the toughest of times I guess I can give it a pass.
Then episode 23 happened. And all of a sudden I stopped caring.
I’m willing to bet what conspired during the graduation ceremony also happened in the light novels, which leaves any scriptwriter with little choice if they desire to keep the adaptation faithful. And of course, when it comes to a Mari Okada-style adaptation the only choice to make is to go as balls-to-the-wall with the emotions as possible. Don’t get me wrong, naturally this kind of scene is rife with emotions, but the way Mari Okada handled this scene made what was supposed to be a clear output of earnest feelings about Sakurasou into a cacophony. It was supposed to be a feel-good scenario about the triumph of Sakurasou amidst a wave of personal disappointments, but I couldn’t bring myself to appreciate that at all thanks to how it was executed in the anime.
7. Black★Rock Shooter (Rating on MAL: 4/10)(Credits: Script/Series Composition)
Here’s the thing about Black★Rock Shooter: it’s never about what the characters say. Mari Okada successfully concocted a script that was, for the most part, gibberish. You didn’t even need to understand a quarter of the dialogue to comprehend what was going on in the story because everything was being represented by awesome CG chuuni battles in an alternate dimension anyway. That effectively made attempts at meaningful dialogue in the *snrk* real world redundant. So Mari Okada was faced with a challenge: how does she supplement awesome CG chuuni battles in an alternate dimension when the dialogue is going to be throwaway no matter what she does? The preferable answer would be to spice up the dialogue. And, truth be told, she actually did. The problem is that she did it Mari Okada style: Instead of speaking straight from their feelings, characters must yell at each other in terms of abstract concepts that represent their feelings in an approximate manner. Take that concept, apply it to an entire anime, and you get something along the lines of Black★Rock Shooter.
One could make the excuse that these kids are in middle school and thus are entitled to be as whiny and loud as they are made out to be in the anime. Additionally, if it weren’t for the convoluted dialogue I wouldn’t have nearly been as absorbed in the emotional roller coaster that was Black★Rock Shooter. A simple, to-the-point script would make this show worse by default because if you lose the passion in the real world dialogue you lose the emotional impact that makes this anime as a whole so entrancingly stupid yet addicting to watch. However, the basic idea of middle school kids beating the shit out of each other Inception style is so half-baked outside of the drawing board that I honestly have no idea how the script could be any better. Where would this story go if not the emotional route? Spending time trying to make sense of the alternate world? Attempting to put logic into a world entirely comprised of pubescent feelings? Yeah, no.
6. Gosick (Rating on MAL: 6/10)
[Credits: Script (eps 1-3, 6-8, 12, 19, 22-24)/Series Composition]
While the lukewarm excitement of the mysteries at hand is the fault of the source material itself, I liked Gosick’s story for its effort into building each successive mystery into a grand-scale narrative where everything, and I mean everything, finally came together. In the meantime, though, the story saw me fit to be entertained with the relationship between Victorique and Kujo, sometimes spending entire episodes doing nothing but spending time with each other or having each character thinking about each other. Now, people bag on this series because of a distinct lack of mystery in a mystery anime. My particular complaint is that the anime didn’t provide anything up to par in order to replace that.
I wasn’t particularly enthralled by the Victorique/Kujo ship simply because Kujo didn’t stand out enough for me to care about what he thought. The transition into an adventure story in the second half of the series came at a time where I was already at a borderline “don’t care” phase, but it did lift my spirits about the show as a whole. The finale was also a bit rushed, even when not given the context that that the writers (hint hint Mari Okada) allegedly went through at least one whole light novel’s worth of material in the last episode for the sake of a tidy ending. However, tidy endings were never a strong point for Studio BONES anyway so I’ll give her credit for at least that.
5. Toradora! (Rating on MAL: 7/10)
[Credits: Script (eps 1-4, 6, 8, 12-14, 22-25)/Series Composition]
Though for me the charm of Toradora lay mostly in its impeccable sense of humor, the anime still managed to establish a well-rounded and distinct cast of characters that bounced off each other with great force and enjoyment. As it is an adaptation of a series of light novels, Mari Okada didn’t have to do much to the script to make it as good as it was. Of course, with Ami around to be the vague, snarky, and perceptive little bitch that she is (ilu), Okada didn’t need to do anything drastic from the start.
The episodes she wrote were for the most part good. The introduction? Great! Episodes 12-14? SUPER GREAT! The rest? …Eh. Once the second half hit and the drama started to roll in, the last few episodes she was in charge of did come off as a bit yell-y scream-y. In fact, I found it unnecessary. Of course, I didn’t react as badly as everyone else did while it was still airing, but that doesn’t refute the fact that I was particularly bothered with how the characters felt the need to spill out their guts to that extent. Now keep in mind, I found everything that the story did was necessary. I would prefer it, though, if the climax hadn’t been so melodramatic. I’m sure a person can be dramatic without having to scream so loud. Then again, what the hell sort of standards am I assigning to high school kids these days, anyway?
Maybe I’m just butthurt that Minori had to turn out that way she did. Yeah, that might be the real problem.
4. Ano Hana (Rating on MAL: 6/10)(Credits: Script)
At its heart, Ano Hana is a story of both pain and healing. Old affections and traumas bubble up between an estranged group of friends who have, for the most part, not changed since the day someone dear to them died. The entire premise of a group of estranged childhood friends reeling in the midst of a dead childhood friend allowed for a particularly expressive script by Mari Okada because of how much emotional payload there is to be discovered when digging into each character’s background. Have them resurrect a bitter love polygon and you got yourself the perfect recipe for a good cry.
For me, the concept ended up being a double-edged sword. The writing shone through when it came to the navigating the volatile relationships between the characters, but fell through once it realized that the story still had a plot to finish up. I absolutely hated the way the finale unfolded because of it. For the sake of finishing the story, several sidestories had to be tied off prematurely. Others were either addressed too late or not addressed at all. The amazing ideas and relationships that the story had built up to that moment crumbled at its foundations once it was apparent that the main storyline wasn’t receiving nearly enough attention in comparison. What started out as solid character relationships ended up manifesting as a melodramatic mess of dialogue and tears, and that was something I just couldn’t let fly.
3. True Tears (Rating on MAL: 7/10)
[Credits: Script (eps 1, 4, 7, 12, 13)/Series Composition]
To be completely honest, I’d put this higher if it weren’t for the fact that the wrong girl ended up winning in the end. Why yes, I’m still mad about this approximately six years into the future. Get on my level.
True Tears is a surprisingly solid production for a romantic drama. Sure, some characters ended up getting at my nerves most of the time (the WRONG GIRL and the siscon, especially), but the script allowed all the characters to move at their own pace. This is crucial for a story like True Tears because any loose end in the web of relationships means the entire setup collapses. The way it manages to hold up and hold out to the end of the series is something I can credit to good writing. Romance in and of itself is no longer a factor in how I rate things, though, and True Tears in particular isn’t especially deep when it comes to things other than that. That doesn’t stop it from being really, really good though.
In particular, many of the scenes involving Noe captivated me, things like the catfight in episode 7, the whole sidestory involving Raigomaru, and everything that happened in the very end of the story. Of course, what did happen does tend to boggle minds and confuse audiences, but given her circumstances and her character I couldn’t really expect anything else. And the ending. Oh god, how that ending was executed. True Feels.
2. Hanasaku Iroha (Rating on MAL: 8/10)[Credits: Script (eps 1-4, 11-13, 18, 21-22, 24-26)/Series Composition]
There are obvious weaknesses when it comes to how Hanasaku Iroha was set up. One was the scatterbrained nature of the plot, which gave opportunity to a whole slew of wacky hijinks that didn’t necessarily have to do with the main storyline at times. The Nako-centric episode comes to mind as an egregious example of this. One could argue, as I do, that HanaIro is as much about inn life as it was about the romantic drama and struggles with work ethic, and that any story that involves Kissui Inn and inn-related affairs were always relevant to the overarching narrative. Much like how people can like Cowboy Bebop despite featuring in one episode a fat psycho psychic clown lab rat that was absolutely terrified of cats. Another issue was that a good portion of the cast was easily hateable. I speak of Minko and Takako in particular, but Enishi and Ko can also fit the bill of people who especially got on people’s nerves. My view of things is that a character doesn’t have to be sympathetic to be well written, and I believe that all these characters have their separate quirks and motivations that do make them sympathetic, but that does not always translate into enjoyability. And Minko is almost never a sight to enjoy unless you’re doing it for the lulz.
On the other hand, what ended up saving this anime for me was how brilliant the writing was when things got serious, especially when it came to the parts that involved Ohana’s family. In this case, episodes 11-13 shined the brightest in terms of finding a balance between spoken and unspoken character development. To a lesser extent, both the movie arc and the festival arc also managed to pull this off, but it never came to the full glory that conspired when Ohana’s mom first returned home to Kissui Inn. The dialogue in these parts exhibit a particular phenomenon that exemplifies Mari Okada at her very best: subtlety. In these rare moments the writing comes off as smart rather than pretentious, always offering something to interpret rather than spelling its themes out completely to the audience. I didn’t feel stupid or patronized when watching Hanasaku Iroha because the intricacies of the script allow for a more active watching experience, even if the content itself was disagreeable at times (seriously Minko stahp). I respect Mari Okada for being able to pull that off in this anime.
Then again, she was responsible for episode 3. We don’t talk about episode 3.
1. Wandering Son (Rating on MAL: 9/10)(Credits: Script/Series Composition)
Personally, the success of Wandering Son resided more in my knowledge of the manga, because the anime adaptation elevated that source material in ways I hadn’t really thought of before. The animation supplemented the story beautifully and the acting had that realistic touch to it (since they used children for the seiyuus). However, what really got to me about this anime was how incredibly good the script was. Namely, I thought this anime is home to Mari Okada’s best script to date, even if most of the substance wasn’t hers to begin with. Allow me to explain.
I read and enjoyed Wandering Son long before word of an anime adaptation reached the tubes, but it is of my opinion that the anime captured the spirit of the middle school arc a lot better. One of the biggest strengths of the story in general is the neutral stance it took on the whole issue of transgenderism. It didn’t go out of its way to be preachy or demonic towards any particular side of the debate, but instead focused on the ups and downs of the main character as (s)he struggles with what (s)he wants as opposed to what society sees of him and expects him to do. My specific problem with the manga is that this neutrality sometimes bled into the dramatic parts of the manga and the execution ended up being muted in all the passivity. Mari Okada answered this problem by adding a bit more passion to the script. No, she didn’t go and make them yell and scream like she did with Black★Rock Shooter, but what the anime succeeded in doing, that the manga was having trouble with, was applying intensity to the situation. Not a lot of intensity, mind you, because Wandering Son still ends up having very little intensity in comparison to most mainstream anime, but it was enough for me to appreciate greatly and to sustain my interest.
Many of the extra quirks to the script aren’t additional dialogue but instead nuances in both pacing and body language, due to it being adapted from an existing source material. However, the fact that I found those changes for the better, as opposed to how it was made worse in the cases of both Sakurasou and Toradora, elevated an already amazing story into a position where I can comfortably say that this is one of my all-time favorite anime. There were a myriad of ways that Mari Okada could have screwed up the execution of a story as delicate as Wandering Son, and I’m grateful that it turned out the way it did.
Average Rating: 6.1
Overall, my opinion of Mari Okada is that she’s dependent on the source material she writes for. Stories that require a layered and intricate style of interaction end up faring better while stories that don’t need to be obtuse end up being exceptionally obtuse, and are worse off because of it. She performs much more consistently, in my eyes, when she’s writing for an original project. An average score of 7.0 is not a bad thing for a writer that seems to be pigeonholed into one particular style of writing, but then again most writers are pigeonholed into a specific quirk *coughButcherGencough*
Think there’s an anime written by Mari Okada that I still need to watch? Any particular anime listed here that you have a wildly different opinion about and would like to tell me how wrong I am? Want to suck my dick because I have god-tier taste? Be sure to leave a comment below.