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This Week in Anime
Does Gen Urobuchi's Name Mean Anything Anymore?

by Nicholas Dupree & Christopher Farris,

Once upon a time, Gen Urobuchi's name was synonymous with a certain quality of anime. He penned series like Madoka Magica and Psycho-Pass to great acclaim. In the following years, fan expectations for his projects became diluted and his name was no longer synonymous with mature, pathos-driven, subversions. What happened?

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

@Lossthief @BeeDubsProwl @NickyEnchilada @vestenet

Nick, I know that Steve and Nicky just discussed Yokō Tarō and his odd love of puppetry. And that got me thinking, why don't we check in this season with anime's other master of puppets?
I mean, if there's anyone whose relationship with anime figures is as, uh, complex as Yokō Tarō's, Gen "The Booch" Urobuchi.

Though now that I think about it, it's wild we have two anime from highly touted and successful creators, both famous and infamous for their storytelling this season, yet not a soul on my timeline has even pretended to care about Urobuchi's new show.
Yes, you might not know it, but ol' Boochy the Rock has a new series out this season centered on one of those most primal acts immortalized in storytelling: That of the Revenger.

No relation to the concurrent Tokyo variety. This probably only increases how much Urobuchi's new show has been overshadowed.
Speaking as somebody who only bothered to watch more than one episode because it's literally my job, I can't exactly say I'm surprised. While Revenger is not the worst thing to have Urobuchi's name attached to it in the last decade, it's undoubtedly the one that I remember the least about when I'm not in the act of watching it.
It says a lot that the primary reaction I, and others in my periphery, had to Revenger's airing had less to do with its actual content and more provoked a simple semi-shrug of "Oh right, Urobuchi's got a new thing out." This is only...a little bit buck-wild when you consider what a major draw the man's name was considered seemingly only a few years ago.
When I first started watching seasonal anime, Urobuchi was an absolutely inescapable name. Across three years, he had enormous hits with Madoka Magica, Fate/Zero, and Psycho-Pass back to back to back, and whether you loved or hated his work, it seemed like all of Anitwitter had an opinion about him.
Even in the early days, just as Madoka was getting started, Urobuchi's name still provoked interest in being attached to that anime project (I am pretty sure no one ever talked about Phantom ~Requiem for the Phantom~). At this point, he was mostly known for writing visual novels for Nitro+, like Saya no Uta, which was known in circles for its, let's just say, unique subject matter.

With that foreshadowing Madoka Magica's famous swerves, it's easy to see why he picked up such a discourse-worthy reputation.
I have only heard legends of that particular VN, primarily because of the main girl's similarity to Utsutsu from Gatchaman Crowds, another bit of discourse fuel from circa 2013. Yet it was the poster child for Urobuchi's reputation as a grimdark writer.

The discussion has evolved somewhat, but at the time, he was very much preceded by his "Butcher" nickname.

It's true! For several years after Madoka, it seemed like just announcing him as a writer attached to something worked as a promotional gimmick. Speaking as someone who was there, I still remember the fervor in 2013 when it came out that Toei would let the Madoka Magica guy write the next Kamen Rider.

Immediately there were questions of what kind of grimdark twists Urobuchi would include in this Sunday-morning kids' show. And while Kamen Rider Gaim did go to some rather dark, surprising places, in retrospect, a lot of it wasn't anything that hadn't been seen in other, earlier entries.
Yeah, that's part of what I meant when I said the discussion around his work has evolved. Thanks to the sheer force of Madoka's bait and switch, I think Urobuchi's tendency towards "dark" stories is a bit overstated. The dude loves some grim and gritty drama and will dole out bad endings where thematically justified, but he's not the Anime Frank Miller (for good or ill) that some would have you believe.

As I recall, Gaim is the series about battling gangs of fruit-themed street dancers, right?

Hey, now, that's a reductive description that shortchanges the inherent drama of the series.

There are also Pokémon battles.
Do the Pokémon dance?
Absolutely not. These are serious fruit-lock dance-stage monster battles waged by Armored Riders acting out stories with depth worthy of being broadcast on HBO over here.
I sadly wasn't able to make time to watch any of it myself, but I distinctly remember my friends crying over a grape boy, so I'll take your word on this one.
Indeed, for the time, the deployment of The Booch worked. That year, the turnout for Kamen Rider cosplayers, particularly of the Gaim variety, was huge at my go-to anime convention. And that's for this weird Japanese Power Rangers thing that was way more niche in 2013 than it is now. So you can imagine how red-hot this writer's reputation was when applied as a promotional tool to other series of the era.
That was also around the time people started getting savvy to how fast and loose marketing teams were being with his name. The dude started popping up in many different credits, and it was often unclear how much he was involved. There was a real debate at the time on whether Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet was a "real" Urobuchi project.
That point where a creator is credited with "Story Concept" apart from any actual episode scripts, though Urobuchi did at least contribute the first and last ones for Gargantia. And yeah, I recall a lot of discussion around that one as it was airing, including people trying to suss out if Gargantia would feature a defining "twist," like Madoka or Saya no Uta. It probably says a lot that the primary audience takeaway was "Chamber is the goodest robot boy ever."
As somebody who quite liked Gargantia, I will still go to bat for it. It has a lot of Urobuchi's hand in its overall construction as a galaxy and millennium-spanning look at the dehumanizing power of utilitarianism. If anything, I think it benefits from not being solely Boochi's handiwork because it's far more about Ledo building connections and unpacking his damage, which I think Urobuchi often struggles to articulate.
The man does love dismantling the dehumanizing effects of abusive systems, and praising Gargantia for the bits that benefitted from Urobuchi not being the only writer is interesting. Slapping his name on a series as a selling point but outsourcing the actual writing to other parties is generally credited as where things go astray, IE: All of Psycho-Pass after the first season.
We don't talk about Psycho-Pass season 2 in this house, Chris. And nobody talks about anything after that despite a third season and half a dozen movies coming out since then. Because that sequel season absolutely killed any momentum the franchise or world had.
And right around that period, you see that pattern of Urobuchi, or at least his name, being utilized in the way I mentioned earlier. Game/anime franchises that no one talks about anymore, like Gunslinger Stratos, where he's just credited with the "Original Scenario." The disastrous Chaos Dragon, where one of its selling points was that Boochy played one of the characters in the source tabletop campaign. Heck, just last year, you and I looked at RWBY: Ice Queendom, which promoted itself with Urobuchi on "Animation Concept," seemingly to get people talking about "A RWBY anime by the Madoka Magica writer?!"
We definitely hit a point of diminishing returns sometime around 2018, where it became all but meaningless to see the dude's name attached to anything. I'm pretty sure "Animation Concept" means Urobuchi said, "make an anime about Weiss; she's my favorite," and they ran with it.
I mean, it's not like he wasn't keeping busy. I certainly don't begrudge the man for hopping off to fall in love with a whole new medium and indulging in multiple seasons of an interconnected universe of puppet violence.
I mean, if I got a free license to make a bunch of murder puppet shows, I'd certainly go for it instead of being stuck writing for something called Gunslinger Stratos, I'll tell you that much.
But as much as we all (including Urobuchi himself) love Thunderbolt Fantasy, his level of engagement with it only stands out compared to the anime projects bearing his name from the same time. "Gen Urobuchi" had become but a brand name, a franchise akin to "Tom Clancy," whose creations can be smashed together like action figures in crossover fighting games.
There's also a ton of debate about how involved he is with even the projects he actually writes for. I'm not personally a huge fan of that whole argument - it feels like giving a writer I like a pass for making something bad - but it's undeniable that his stock took a big hit with every new anime he was attached to. This is entirely deserved as somebody who watched all three of his Godzilla movies.
I can't believe he got help from two other writers on Bubble, and that movie still felt as thin as it did.

Though to Urobuchi's, uh, "credit," Bubble was clearly a situation where production was trying to throw every big name they could get to will a blockbuster into being, so maybe that was just a case of Too Many Cooks. Even Hiroyuki Sawano sounds watered-down in that one.
I refuse to believe Bubble had an actual completed screenplay. That thing plays like a spec script where huge portions of the document are [INSERT COOL PARKOUR SCENE HERE]. Every instance of dialogue from the main couple is just placeholder text from The Little Mermaid, which was supposed to be replaced with actual depth later.
Small wonder that after all that, when it was time to return to scripts for the small screen of TV anime, Urobuchi opted to continue with his Thunderbolt-style comfort zone of dudes with swords cutting each other up real good.
This makes it all the more disappointing that Revenger is just...there. It's alright. It's entirely competent as a sword and sandals action thing. Yet it sloughs off my brain as soon as an episode ends.
Even apart from my personal, critical feelings on the show, which I can get to in a bit, the response to Revenger clearly indicates how much the Urobuchi brand has slipped in just these last few years. Gone is the all-consuming chatter of Madoka Magica or the franchise-altering success of Fate/Zero, and in its place, you have...a show that hasn't gotten past #14 on our weekly rankings. An anime that has yet to crack the Top 10 once on Anitrendz.

Most damning, though? If you go and search, the series only fills up a partial page of pixiv results!

I think it's a confluence of a lot of things. People have learned to distrust Urobuchi's name being plastered on something, and he's delivered some outright stinkers that even somebody who loves his early-2010s work would find pretty phoned-in. I did a lot of catch-up on stuff for this column, and even trying to get through one half-length episode of OBSOLETE was a chore.
It makes me glad I just made time for his Wooser's Hand-to-Mouth Life episode instead, even if that one only drove home how commodified Booch and his work had become by that point.
If we're talking single episodes he wrote for, I'll take S2E7 of Concrete Revolutio, just for how incredibly unchill it is. Just 20 straight minutes of Boochi eviscerating American militarism and foreign policy without blinking.

Concrete Revolutio is one I need to make time to go back and watch the back half of one of these days. That seems like the sandbox that would do well from bringing Urobuchi in to play as a guest for a session. Huh, I wonder if he would touch on foreign powers exerting their influence in any of his later works?
Dude has his pet themes that he loves to come back to. It's a shame the various tensions and conflicting cultures in Revenger don't make it more interesting because having our heroes be a group of assassins led by some weird branch of the Catholic church is a wild idea!
The Gin-Chan's Odd Jobs crew is looking a little off these days...

Jokes aside, though, Urobuchi has woven a plot twist into Revenger, and it's that this feels the most like an Urobuchi joint written by Urobuchi for Urobuchi in years.

As you said, it's not amazing by the standards of his more storied work, but there are clearly like, ideas and concepts he's playing with beyond just slapping his name on the scenario and including an eldritch girlfriend or someone becoming a god.

I guess, yeah. But it takes a while to get there, and the delivery is so sterile it feels like when I'm vegging out on the couch and want to watch reruns of police procedurals on Netflix. In a way, I wish it was worse so that it would stick with me more. Godzilla: The Planet Eater is hot garbage, but I still think about it every now and then.
That's fair. I can feel myself checking out during any of its explanations of trade union politics or law enforcement jurisdiction manipulation. But then it will dip into the thing that is entirely my jam, relevant to this overall discussion of the man's work that led us here. That is the idea of the main ex-Samurai Raizo acting as a meta-textual examination of Urobuchi himself: Someone who's decided he doesn't want to be pigeonholed as the grimdark violence guy anymore and wants to explore expressing different artistic subject matter.

It's certainly the most interesting angle of this all, and in some ways echoes Ledo's journey in Gargantia. At the same time, if he doesn't want to be the grimdark guy anymore, he could stop writing episodes like the drug-dealing nun brothel.
True, it's very much the concept I'm glomming onto with Revenger here (apart from the occasional cool scene of some dudes getting killed real good with gold leaf or kite strings). And reading it that way certainly begs the question of Urobuchi taking his own advice. It means we won't have an answer on that whole angle until the very end of the show. Or afterward, even as we wait to find out what he does after writing up all this revenge!
Personally, my impression is that he's most engaged with Thunderbolt Fantasy and the particular tone and style it's allowing him to work in. So I'll look forward to more of that, hopefully. Until then... Should we wait to see how that Madoka sequel goes?
Careful there, you know how getting your hopes up in Urobuchi's works tends to go.

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