Your Ultimate Guide to Anime Ending Credits: Part IV

by Kevin Cirugeda,

If you found last time's quick look at the producers and studio interactions less exciting, you'll be glad to see this guide delve back into the artistic side of production. Right at the end of TV series credits (or right at the beginning, because anime refuses to embrace consistence and standards) we find the episode's creative staff, key roles changing every week. It goes without saying, but scriptwriting, storyboarding and directing are rather important steps when making anime. Let's see what this is all about, then.

Scriptwriter (脚本, Kyakuhon), Scenario (シナリオ):

Screenwriting shouldn't require much of an explanation, since anime scripts aren't all that different from other media's – they contain the narration, character interactions, stage directions, just about everything you'd expect. How they come to be is what deserves a more in-depth look, since it's often the source of misunderstandings, and for that it's better to start at the very source of the project. The series director and series composer (シリーズ構成, Series Kousei) start meeting early in production alongside the producers and production committee members (if necessary) to draft the story; in the case of adaptations they'll work with the source material as a basis and credit its author (原作), and if it's an original work whoever came up with the concept will get that credit. Either way, they make the big structural and narrative decisions together. How much input each has depends on the project, and we have to rely on interviews and behind the scenes material to find out about any particular case. There are projects where the writer was brought on late into conception and only followed orders, as well as shows creatively born in their hands. In any case the series director always outranks the series composer, so no fundamental decisions will be made against their will. Once they've approved it, the series composer will decide how to split the work into episodes so that the overall story of the show flows as well as possible and the pacing doesn't fall apart (again, often with the director's input as well).

Only after all that do the individual scriptwriters get to flesh out a portion of that story into around 21-22 minutes of screenplay. As you can imagine, it's not a role that leaves them much room to take creative choices, so all they can do is execute the material they've been given as well as possible. There are some exceptions (like episodic series with guest writers invited so that they can do their own thing), and it's also important to know that the series composers themselves write a fair share of episode scripts, but for the most part this isn't as important of a role as “writer” might lead you to think.

Storyboarder (絵コンテ, Ekonte):

The storyboards or Ekonte (literally picture continuity) are a series of usually simple drawings depicting the events in the script, serving as the visual foundation of an episode or film. They're drawn on special templates with fields for the cut's number, the sketches representing the shot, notes for the staff (regarding camerawork, effects, guidelines for the animators…), the dialogue/sound effects and the length. There's an argument to be made that an anime's actual script is the finished storyboard, since it's what initially articulates the ideas in a visual manner, and what truly dictates the flow of those events.

As mentioned before, your average storyboard doesn't have (or really need) particularly refined art. Sketches are enough, as long as the sequence is conceptually detailed and clearly illustrates what is going on. That's not everyone's approach, though; some take it to the extreme and draw very rough outlines that are only really viable when working closely with staff that knows you well, while others go overboard with the polish. Many animation fans are aware that Satoshi Kon's boards could very well work as animation layouts already, but that isn't exclusive to a genius like him. There's storyboarders who use very clean and detailed drawings for the major scenes, others who take the source material they're adapting and very convincingly reproduce the art in a way that's close to how the animation will look, as well as cases where you see the precise and nuanced display of emotion that is usually reserved to the key animation. Finding out about your favorite creator's approach to this task is one of the most interesting parts of getting access to production materials.

The thoroughness of the person in charge doesn't just affect the level of detail in the drawings, perhaps even more important is the amount of notes they add. Meticulous storyboarders will spend many drawings on every shot and leave precise notes to animators and even photography staff, to make sure the final scene is exactly what they originally had in mind. They ease the production ever so slightly by avoiding ambiguity, and gain even more control over the final product by leaving very clear and comprehensive instructions. Veterans will even take into account the resources they feel they'll have available, both in terms of time and staff, when drawing demanding scenes like big battles or musical performances. Ambitious boards can be excellent, but if the schedule's too tight and there aren't enough skilled animators to execute the complex cuts you came up with, you're only hurting the work. In an ideal world creators wouldn't have to compromise their vision like that, but within a commercial industry constantly rushing out projects they tend to aim towards feasible rather than to perfect.

The mental image people often seem to have of anime's storyboards is more akin to imageboards, a step of pre-production (more frequent on films) where the key staff visualize the core ideas. That concept art tends to be more detailed and feature colored illustrations, but what really sets it apart is that, in this early stage (even before the script has been written), it only depicts key moments. It's easy to grasp the difference when you look at a set of imageboards and then compare it to the respective storyboards; same events, same work, same artist behind both, yet the contrast between these two phases of production becomes fairly apparent.

Storyboards are still generally done on paper, but as of late and much like many other production steps there has been a transition towards digital drawings. A bit of a struggle for some people since the average age of storyboarders is the highest amongst all anime staff and they might not be used to working with computers and tablets, but a logical move nonetheless; consider that they depict every single cut in an episode (and that entails multiple drawings per shot, a lot if there's complex movement), which in the end amounts to hundreds of pages per episode. Reducing that to just one file that can be easily sent digitally instead of having to be delivered by hand is already a solid argument for digital storyboards.

While storyboards are the blueprints for the entire episode, sometimes not all scenes you see were featured in them; the most common case would be reused footage (both complex scenes and simple pans), which doesn't need to be detailed and can just be noted with BANK (the Japanese term for stock footage). There are special instances like transformation sequences built from the ground by a particular animator who gets explicit credit for them, and even extra cuts added by top animators being given a lot of freedom – like the sliding scene in the first episode of Space Dandy by Yutaka Nakamura, which wasn't part of the original plan. Putting these exceptional situations aside though, storyboards dictate how the animation will end up being. That's why this is such a crucial step: a particularly poor board will bind even the best artists, who struggle when they have to obey poor framing and nonsensical flow. Projects with notoriously strong animators are often talent magnets in general so competence is to be expected, but storyboards being the weak link isn't something unheard of.

Episode Director (演出, Enshutsu):

The person supervising all the staff directly involved with the production of an episode; this entails early meetings with the chiefs of every relevant department (2D animation, 3DCG, backgrounds, composite and so on) and then guiding them through the process. They'll check the layouts to make sure they properly represent the ideas in the storyboard, inspect the key animation, readjust the length of cuts and ask for retakes if needed, attend recordings, basically approving and overseeing every main stage of a particular episode's production. There are many facets to this role, which makes their personal priorities as creators shine through; some enshutsu will work very closely with the coloring department to control the atmosphere of the episode through the palette and lighting, while others value animation over everything and will spend more time overseeing the drawings. Not all their decisions are purely creative though, they also have administrative duties like controlling the number of drawings – something that doesn't correlate with the quality of the animation (since with expert modulation you'll get impressive scenes with lower frame count), but that is very important from an economic standpoint. If an episode costs more than it was meant to because it was full of excess cuts with dozens of pointless layers and way too many inbetweens, the episode director will be blamed. This all represents a high degree of responsibility, but it's the reason why their flair can be so ubiquitous in the finished piece; while the series director will always have the last word, the enshutsu’s direct input over every small element soaks the whole episode with their style. There's nothing more noticeable in anime than an idiosyncratic episode director's work coming through relatively unfiltered, that's what many of the most memorable moments in this medium are.

The episode director and storyboarder are very often the same person, since ideally the person regulating the flow and coming up with the underlying visual representation of the events would also be the one with creative control over the episode in general. That's not always the case, though; sometimes splitting the tasks is another way to reduce workloads when schedules are tight, but there's also the role's inherent duality of management and creation, which require different skillsets. Having the artistic sense to portray the narrative appropriately and being capable of coordinating the production of something that involves dozens of people and multiple departments are very different tasks, yet the episode director is burdened with them both. If they don't excel at the creation part, allowing someone else to storyboard and thus envision the episode themselves can be a positive move.

These two sides manifest themselves in the enshutsu’s professional backgrounds as well. At the risk of oversimplification, there's two kind of episode directors: those who started as assistant producers and animators who moved all the way up. The former can put their management skills to use for the supervision tasks, while the latter have a natural understanding of the medium as long time creators themselves. Of course, both might improve with time and become all-around proficient, but those are generally the two main kinds of episode directors you'll encounter, with some exceptions like painters or photography staff becoming episode (or even series) directors.

How much freedom episode directors are given depends on the production; it's easy to point to an anthology like Space Dandy as an example of project where they were given free reign and let them quite literally craft their own worlds, but regular TV anime exhibit a wide range of flexibility too. There are passion projects where the series director feels omnipresent even when not personally handling episodes, shows that fluctuate wildly week-to-week depending on who's in charge, and even conservative adaptations where no one is meant to deviate from the original work they're promoting. There's no universal ideal approach; every project has different needs and could potentially be tackled in multiple ways; of course that striking a balance where the individual voices of episode directors are heard while staying cohesive to the chief director's vision seems like an excellent general attitude, but it's all valid as long as at some level the creators are allowed to make what they want. Restrict them too much, and the work can't breathe.

Even the number of people standing above the enshutsu fluctuate depending on the project, since you can no longer assume there's simply going to be one overall director. The regular director (監督, Kantoku) and their assistants (副監督, Fukukantoku; 助監督, Jokantoku) might be accompanied by a Series Director (シリーズディレクター) or Chief Director (チーフディレクター; 総監督, Soukantoku) with the final say on every decision. There also are Series Episode Directors (シリーズ演出, Series Enshutsu, sometimes チーフ演出/Chief Enshutsu) who tend to work closely with the staff, do more direct work and thus have a stronger creative impact on the work. The further up you move the more vetoing power you gain, but you progressively have less time to spend actually directing. That's something you can appreciate in particularly messy situations like JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders, which had many directional roles; it was its Chief Enshutsu who handled the most episodes including the particularly important ones, while its Director lagged behind and the Series Director barely had time for that. The most notorious example regarding this is Akiyuki Shinbo's recent career. You will notice his name in every single SHAFT project as any of those directional roles, yet most of the time he only oversees and guides projects from higher up – you can count the episodes he's personally storyboarded in the last few years with one hand. This is again a good reminder that you shouldn't assume too much based just on a role's name, as the circumstances behind each project might heavily change what it entails.

It's worth noting that while in TV anime those enshutsu are by all means “episode directors”, the role exists in movies as well. While not as readily apparent, film enshutsu (often called unit/technical directors instead) are also in charge of segments of the work – the acts movies are split in, both narratively and for ease of production. In such cases their duty is pretty much the same it would be in a TV series, supervising the work of all the departments working on their portion of the film. Even in shorter movies/OVAs where that segmentation apply there might be an enshutsu or two, simply to support the chief director.

This has been a lengthy guide, but I feel like that much is needed just to have a solid grasp on the basics. Hopefully this approach that highlights all the noteworthy roles one by one will have served the purpose to immediately help you comprehend their job, while progressively coming to understand anime production as a whole. Now when you look at one of the many charts that keep popping up in social media (like the one above), you will have an easier time grasping the process as you already recognize those steps. You might come to appreciate anime more when you see how much work there's put into it!


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