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My Happy Marriage Director Takehiro Kubota and Creating a New Fairytale

by Rebecca Silverman,


My Happy Marriage began its life as a series of novels written by Akumi Agitogi, and it has since been adapted both as manga and, as of July 2023, an anime series simulcast by Netflix. Agitogi's tale, set in a nebulous time that can be seen as either the late Meiji or early Taisho era, takes place in a world similar to our own, but where some people have supernatural “Gifts,” such as pyrokinesis or Spirit-Sight. Those are highly desired traits, so when Miyo Saimori appears not to have any, her family writes her off, demoting her to a servant in her own home while doting on her younger half-sister. Taking on elements of a classic Cinderella tale, the story follows Miyo and her fiancé Kiyoka as they navigate their world and work to find happiness together. We had a chance to sit down with anime director Takehiro Kubota, and ask him some questions about the process of bringing the My Happy Marriage anime to life – the choices, the challenges, and balancing the story between the everyday and the supernatural.

The story of My Happy Marriage is set in a fictitious historical time period reminiscent of Japan's Meiji and Taisho eras. How did this influence you at the time of deciding how certain scenes would be played or what traits the characters would have?

Takehiro Kubota: To be honest, I didn't really pay attention to the era when it came to the characters... (laughs). But, since many of the garments are kimonos, we paid particular attention to the patterns on the kimonos. The setting of the original story is about half-realistic and half-fictional, so the things are designed in such a way that they "look like they fit the setting" rather than being based on precise historical research—though, that's not to say we didn't use a variety of materials from the specific time period as references to strike a good balance between reality and fiction. Originally, the time period, location, and even the country were not clearly stated in the novel. It was a Japan-like, Taisho era-like, ambiguous fantasy world. So we paid close attention to finding the right balance between the realistic and the fictional.

Miyo is a character whose growth is slow and not always steady. What steps did you take (or choices did you make) in order to best show this? Did you have any concerns that viewers would find her too slow or shy to understand the decisions she makes over the course of the anime?

KUBOTA: As you said, Miyo is very introverted and indecisive, and sometimes makes the wrong choices, so I think many viewers may have felt frustrated at times. However, since we had the original novel to reference from, the answers to all of our questions were found there, so adapting those aspects on our end wasn't all that complicated. Our main focus was on how to organize Miyo's complex emotional growth throughout the story—to make sure the flow of emotions was smooth and didn't feel strange. In the first part of the story, Miyo slowly recovers her past emotions lost to her traumatic past, through her encounters with Kiyoka and her growth as a person. In order to express this growth, we had to begin with her as a passive character.

During the production of the anime, especially during recording, we paid close attention to the voice actors' performances (tone of voice, sense of tension) and provided direction. We knew that due to the dramatic structure set up in the first episode (which would be important throughout the series), things would start out quite dark. So we were a little worried about how it would be received by the audience. But in the end, luckily, I believe it was generally well received.

The color palette for the anime largely relies on soft pinks and lavenders. Is this symbolic of the sakura tree Miyo's mother is associated with? What symbolism did you want viewers to take from the gentle colors?

KUBOTA: You're on the right track. Since cherry blossoms are one of the symbolic motifs of this work, pink and lavender were often used in the color palettes throughout the anime.

Within Japan's four very distinct seasons, I feel that the colors of cherry blossoms being associated with spring is something very strongly etched into the minds of Japanese people. Spring is the season of meetings and also the season of partings. I thought it would be wonderful if the colors of the cherry blossoms could represent both Miyo meeting Kiyoka and the memory of her late mother, so I actively incorporated them into the anime.

The fairy tale Cinderella has been adapted into many different versions in media. Were you familiar with any of these versions before directing this anime? Did it have any impact on any of the creative choices you made? Do you see Miyo as a Cinderella figure?

KUBOTA: In addition to the original, I have seen many different versions of the Cinderella story. I also believe that the thematic core of Cinderella has been incorporated into a variety of works—live-action and animated. The original My Happy Marriage novels were promoted as a “Cinderella story” so I think that it's safe to say those Cinderella elements are strongly reflected in the story.

When asked if there was anything that influenced me or that I paid attention to in terms of directing, I can't think of anything right away, but at the production level, I was careful to never make Miyo have a strong-willed expression on her face [at the beginning of the story]. This is because Miyo should be a character who is always in doubt and has difficulty making her own decisions. This is something that the original author explained to me. I see it is a way to contrast Miyo at the start to Miyo after she has grown as a person.

My Happy Marriage is set within the general framework of a success story—where the protagonist, who is living in an absurd situation, grows as a result of the events she experiences. We watch Miyo, who has nothing, struggle between the pain of her past and the conflicts of her present. She meets Kiyoka—a person who becomes indispensable to her—and finds happiness and grows thanks to him. So I feel that Miyo is a Japanese version of Cinderella, albeit on a different scale.

Throughout the story, we see how through Kiyoka, Hazuki, and Yurie, Miyo learns courage and that she deserves to be loved. Kiyoka also seems much less one-dimensional than a stereotypical savior figure, but what did you want viewers to see Kiyoka learn from his relationship with Miyo?

KUBOTA: This story is not my own story, but that of the original author, Akumi Agitogi, so I did not try to put too much of my own message into it. That said, if there is anything to be learned or taken from the relationship between Kiyoka and Miyo, it would be the spirit of give-and-take, a positive attitude toward understanding others, and the importance of love.

From the widest possible viewpoint, I don't think either Miyo or Kiyoka gained much [materially] from their relationship, but what they did gain was something irreplaceable. Something priceless that money cannot buy: a strong spiritual bond. In the greater sense, the message of the story is the hope that the world will become a peaceful place where people from various backgrounds can live together and understand each other with love.

What aspects of directing this anime did you find most challenging? Compared to other titles you've worked on the taste of the story seemed quite fresh, was there anything you consciously approached differently?

KUBOTA: As a director, there is no end to the difficulties and hardships. I often felt stressed because I had to manage the staff, do quality control, and take on a wide range of other responsibilities (laughs).

Since the original work is a novel (although there is also a manga adaptation), I was able to propose my own vision and incorporate various ideas into the anime. I was able to show off my own style in this anime, so I think that it was very rewarding. The genre and themes of My Happy Marriage were something I had not touched on much in previous productions, so I feel I have become more confident doing love stories like this one.

Were you concerned about how overseas viewers would enjoy/interpret the anime?

KUBOTA: Not really. In fact, I never imagined that it would be seen so widely in so many different countries, so I was grateful when I heard that it had been watched by so many people overseas and had such a positive response. Especially due to Miyo's uniquely Japanese character? It's somewhat hard to express the nuance, but Miyo is a quite modest person who clearly doesn't wear her heart on her sleeve— I found it very interesting that her character was accepted in other cultures where being able to assert one's own opinion is a highly valued character trait.

How did you approach balancing the fantasy elements of the plot such as the supernatural abilities, and the historical fiction/romance portions of the story? Were they difficult to synchronize?

KUBOTA: Balancing the various elements was difficult. The work is composed of various elements such as fantasy with supernatural powers, romance, and suspense—and none of them could be neglected. And because of the animation timeline, it was difficult to decide what to focus on. We had to make decisions about what to keep and what to cut. We knew from the beginning what viewers who read the original would want from this anime and we wanted to make sure that they were as satisfied as possible. So we focused on the relationship between Kiyoka and Miyo as well as Miyo's growth.

Lastly, do you have anything you'd like to say to overseas viewers of the anime?

KUBOTA: The first season of the anime has been fully broadcast—and, although the air date has yet to be determined, a second season of the anime is currently in the works.

I hope that all you dear viewers who watched the first season will look forward to seeing how the relationship between Miyo and Kiyoka develops in the second season.

Also, everyone is likely wondering when Miyo and Kiyoka will actually get married. I'm also very curious about that, so I hope we can look forward to it together!

Thank you so much for speaking with us, and we're looking forward to Season 2 of My Happy Marriage!

Disclosure: Kadokawa World Entertainment (KWE), a wholly owned subsidiary of Kadokawa Corporation, is the majority owner of Anime News Network, LLC. One or more of the companies mentioned in this article are part of the Kadokawa Group of Companies.

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