Wake Up, Girls! Director Yamakan Explains Financial Troubles Behind Anime's Production (Update)
posted on by Kim Morrissy
Wake Up, Girls! director Yutaka Yamamoto (otherwise known as 'Yamakan') wrote a series of blog posts on March 11 detailing his perception of the production issues behind the films and TV anime after he publicly declared that he had filed for personal bankruptcy. According to Yamakan, the financial troubles behind Wake Up, Girls! were directly linked to the bankruptcy.
The first TV anime and film were produced at Yamakan's studio Ordet and Tatsunoko Production. They both debuted on January 10, 2014. According to Yamakan, there were no financial issues at this time. However, during the production of these projects, Nippon TV bought a 54.3% stake in Tatsunoko Production. Yamakan claims that the staff reshuffling at Tatsunoko Production as a result of this meant that the original backers of Wake Up, Girls! left the project. This caused staff shortages, which prompted Yamakan to put out a recruitment call on his now suspended Twitter account because the remaining staff was "suffering from extreme fatigue."
After the TV anime and film release, Yamakan says that Tatsunoko did not provide funds for the retakes that would be featured in the home video releases. Instead, Ordet funded the retakes, which was a huge burden for a company with less than ten employees. Yamakan decided to make a new Wake Up, Girls! anime to make up the shortfall. The budget decisions at this point shifted to Liden Films (referred to as "L company" in the blog post), which is another studio owned by Ordet's parent company Ultra Super Pictures. Yamakan wrote that he was given a 160 million yen (US$1,435,000) budget to produce two 60-minute films, an amount that he considered far too low. Yamakan insinuated that the management at Liden Films "embezzled funds."
The two films Wake Up, Girls! Seishun no Kage and Wake Up, Girls! Beyond the Bottom were a co-production with Millepensee, a company which was founded by former Gainax producer Naoko Shiraishi. Every Millepensee anime is directed by Shiraishi's husband Shin Itagaki, including the CG Berserk series. Yamakan wrote that he approached them because they had assisted on the earlier Wake Up, Girls! film and TV anime and believed that their new talent had promise. However, Yamakan wrote that he was ultimately disappointed with their output and blamed Shiraishi for poor communication and for outsourcing the animation work overseas without consulting the main staff at Ordet. According to him, the added cost of outsourcing on Wake Up, Girls! Seishun no Kage used up the entire budget for both films.
After Wake Up, Girls! Seishun no Kage was completed, Yamakan wrote that he requested a budget increase and for an extension of the schedule in order to complete the second film. However, Millepensee objected, arguing that it would interfere with their own schedule for upcoming works. Yamakan believed that they did not actually have that much on their plate besides some 2D work on the Berserk anime, which had mostly been done in 3D. He describes Itagaki as a "psychopath" who "throws tantrums if everything does not go his way."
Yamakan claimed that Itagaki and Shiraishi demanded that Yamakan change his own storyboards to reduce the number of scenes where all seven girls appear in order to reduce the workload. Yamakan considered this an unreasonable demand because the story of Wake Up, Girls! is about the seven girls and their friendship but felt that he had no choice but to submit.
Yamakan had earlier shared this interpretation of events in a now deleted blog post from 2017 (archived here) which he later re-posted in 2018. This account was disputed in Beyond the Bottom unit director Michita Shiraishi's blog post from 2017, which claimed that Yamakan has a "persecution complex." According to Shiraishi, Yamakan perceived the producer's use of funds as wasteful because of his miserly personality, and Itagaki (or "the husband", as he was referred to in the post) was not in cahoots with the production committee. Itagaki only gave advice to the animation staff at Millepensee and was not credited for any role in the film. As for removing the cuts, this was a necessary move at the time because otherwise the film would not have been completed on time. Yamakan posted a comment on that blog post demanding that it show "proof" for its claims or else he would seek legal action.
Another production issue Yamakan highlighted in his recent blog posts is the changeover of staff between the first and second films. Koji Aritomi is credited as unit director on Wake Up, Girls! Seishun no Kage, but not on Wake Up, Girls! Beyond the Bottom. Yamakan claimed that this was because Itagaki had demanded his removal from the project because Aritomi had been teaching the animators at Millepensee his way of doing things. Yamakan also claimed that another unit director was removed from the film because Yamakan had told them, "Don't listen to everything Itagaki says."
According to Yamakan, Millepensee did not find a replacement for Aritomi, who was originally supposed to direct the B part of the film. Instead, they told him that it was his responsibility. Yamakan wrote that he wanted to cut off Millepensee but felt that he couldn't because it was Ultra Super Pictures that was managing the production, and he had only recently asked them for a higher budget.
Yamakan calls August 8, 2015 the "X day." That was the day he discovered that Ultra Super Pictures had decided that Millepensee would handle the entire production, while Ordet would only handle the dance animation. This is reflected in the credits of Wake Up, Girls! Beyond the Bottom, which list the "dance key animators," while no such credit appears in Wake Up, Girls! Seishun no Kage. Yamakan wrote that Millepensee had "conspired" with Ultra Super Pictures to cut Ordet out of the rest of the production. He said that he considered taking down the whole project with him like "a suicide bomber." He wrote, "Is that what a human does? Would a human with blood flowing through their veins do this?" Yamakan did not accept Millepensee's actions, and his staff at Ordet would secretly redraw the cuts that they did not believe were good enough, such as the scene where Nanami cries.
According to Yamakan, shifting the production to Millepensee prompted them to hire new unit directors (including Michita Shiraishi). This caused the production costs to exceed the budget even further beyond the 60 million yen Yamakan had earlier asked Ultra Super Pictures for. The total cost was 120 million yen (US$1,075,680). Yamakan was told by Ultra Super Pictures that Ordet would need to pay the extra 60 million yen. When Yamakan refused to pay, he was informed via lawyer that he had been removed from his post as head of Ordet.
Because the intellectual property rights for Wake Up, Girls! belong with Ordet, Yamakan clarified that he has no claim over Wake Up, Girls! after leaving the company. However, he wrote that he was saddled with Ordet's debts, which were over 100 million yen (US$895,000) at that point. Although he said that he hired a lawyer to fight against the dismissal, he lost the case because, according to him, his lawyer had not been taking the case seriously. Yamakan left Ordet in March 2016 and announced that he had gone on "indefinite leave" in May. The debt is the reason why he filed for personal bankruptcy.
In his blog post, Yamakan wrote that he still thought that he would be directing the Wake Up, Girls! New Chapter anime, which he had been participating in the early planning stages for. However, an avex entertainment producer informed him that he had been removed from the post. Itagaki replaced Yamakan as the director of the new anime, and Miyuki Sugawara replaced Sunao Chikaoka as the character designer, although Chikaoka is still credited for the original character designs. Similarly, Millepensee replaced Ordet as the main animation studio.
Yamakan made his bitterness about the situation public. On Twitter, he wrote that he broke off his relationship with Wake Up, Girls!. In his recent blog post, he insinuated that the avex entertainment producer wanted to steal the franchise for himself because the voice actor events (which avex entertainment handled) were profitable. Yamakan singled him out as "the worst person" in the entire saga, and claimed he was the one most responsible for "killing" Wake Up, Girls!. The Wake Up, Girls! voice actress and singing unit officially disbanded after their final tour in March.
Yamakan reiterated that the Hakubo (Twilight) anime film he is producing with Twilight Studio is unrelated to his bankruptcy proceedings, and that this will not affect the funds for the film.
Edit (3/15): The original article wrote that Yamakan had likened Millepensee's actions to a "suicide bomber" when in fact Yamakan had been talking about his own thoughts. This, along with typos, have now been corrected.
this article has been modified since it was originally posted; see change history