Watari Wataru’s appearance at Otakon 2023 was announced with copious mention of his 2011 light novel series My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU (sometimes known by the shortened portmanteau of its Japanese title, Oregairu). While it has its issues (like a spate of fanservice-heavy anime promotional material rather disconnected from the novel’s mentality), it’s also drawn comparisons to era contemporary Toradora for trying to integrate more grounded character dynamics into the extremely archetype-dense school rom-com genre. The series earned a dedicated fanbase, three anime adaptations from 2013 to 2020, three separate manga adaptations and three visual novel spin-offs (including one in 2023).
Even more of interest for AniFem readers, though, is Girlish Number. Its heroine, Chitose, is a cynical young voice actress who finally manages to snag a major role; convinced she’d just never been given a chance to shine, Chitose’s ego takes a serious blow when she can’t keep up with her costars. The series isn’t a brutal indictment of an industry a la Perfect Blue or Oshi no Ko, but a work-com closer to SHIROBAKO – ultimately upbeat but unafraid of airing its complaints, or of letting a cast of adult women have a few rough edges.
Stepping into the role of anime scriptwriter and series composer first to adapt his own work, Watari has increasingly taken up work on adaptations. In 2023, that included AniFem staff favorite The Magical Revolution of the Reincarnated Princess and the Genius Young Lady, an ambitious fantasy series that turned heads for managing to include both a love confession and onscreen kiss between its titular couple.
Such a move is almost unprecedented outside of titles marketed exclusively as yuri or BL, and despite the many beautiful queer love stories that anime has told over the years with one, the other, or only subtext to wield, it’s easy to see why this achievement touched anxious viewers: this interview was conducted only one day before Bandai Namco attempted to declare the couple at the heart of Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury as being “up to interpretation” despite, among other things, their matching wedding rings (the creative team, in an admirable answering power move, released a staff art book at Comiket that included wedding and honeymoon art).
We were able to sit down with Watari, as well as SNAFU editor and Gagaga Bunko Chief Editor Hoshino Horinori, for a short interview.
The following transcript has been edited for clarity. Thank you to Chiaki for doing a translation of the recorded transcript in addition to Otakon’s provided translator.
Anime Feminist: Girlish Number is a series that has a somewhat cynical view on the entertainment industry. What inspiration did you draw from when you were deciding on that approach for the series?
Watari Wataru (渡航): そうですね、ガーリッシュナンバーを描くまでの間はいくつかの作品と、結構いろんな人たちと－芸能界の人達とかと－少しお付き合いがあって一緒にお仕事をしたりとかしているときにふと、「これってずっと昔からやってるけど効率悪いなあって」思ったことがあったりとか、いろんな事が知らないうちにかってに決まってる現状。「すごい気持ち悪いな、」みたいなそういう何か一つ一つ小さな疑問みたいのを持っていたのがあったので、その積み重ねが何となく物語につながっていったかなって気がしますね。
Chiaki Translation: So before I worked on Girlish Number, I had worked on a number of titles and worked around a number of people—people in the entertainment industry—and I’ve had moments where I thought, “this is how it’s always been done, but it doesn’t really make any sense,” or at other times, I’d find out a bunch of things have been decided on before I had an opportunity to weigh in at all. I think the story kind of came together as all these things that didn’t feel so good for me stacked up.
Interpreter: So, before I started working on the series, I worked with a lot of people who were from the entertainment industry. And there were a lot of times I questioned a lot of these things, how they did things in the entertainment industry, such as how people just did as they were told, things like that. So those kinds of questions really led me to build up the story based on that kind of view.
AF: Yeah, Chitose is sort of very arrogant and lazy, and those are qualities you don’t see often in a female protagonist. What was in your head when you created her, and how did audiences react to her?
Chiaki translation: I don’t really think of Chitose as all that unique of a character.
How should I put this?
I’m sure there have been many female characters in other works that followed a sort of template, but I wanted Chitose to have a free spirit that probably doesn’t fit in those archetypes. So I intentionally ignored a lot of those traits that someone might say a girl needs—or needs to fulfill—in an anime.
One of the main reasons why is probably because we’re not making an anime to make an anime—and this is the same for countless other manga in Japan as well, but—as we go up in target audience, in manga targeted for adults, there’s a lot of these kinds of female characters who are uninhibited, or even arrogant as you say. So, I feel, in a way, it’s not all that strange for a character who is older to be that way.
As far as the setting goes, Chitose is over the age of 20. In a way, perhaps the way her ego gets projected might appear to be arrogance.
Interpreter: In my mind, Chitose isn’t actually that special. She doesn’t really have that special of a personality. But considering that there are anime stereotypes for girls that are widely in place. As of now, I wanted to sort of ignore that stereotype and keep her more free-minded, free from those bounds.
And when you actually look at a lot of these manga that are made for adults, and they have characters that are a bit more mature, they actually share characteristics like Chitose. Chitose is over 20, so we wanted to make her seem more natural for a girl that age.
Chiaki translation: Thus, she’s not very popular among male audience members.
Interpreter: And that’s the reason why Chitose isn’t really popular among male viewers.
AF: That’s horrible.
AF: Moving on to a different series. The Magical Revolution of the Reincarnated Princess and the Genius Young Lady—TenTen Kakumei— it’s a little unusual in that it’s a fantasy adventure series, not only a romance, but it has both an overt love confession between its leads and an onscreen kiss. And that was really important for a lot of LGBT viewers. Was there a sense among the anime staff that you were all working on something special?
Chiaki translation: No, we weren’t really thinking this was anything special.
In storytelling, in the beauty of the story, the beauty in the animation, in considering what the audience will think and feel after watching the show up to that point? These are all things we take into account to make a better anime overall. So to me it feels like just another scene we worked on out of many.
So, how should I put this, I don’t come in thinking “I gotta give this my all because it’s the kiss scene,” but rather this scene also came out looking good because I put in the effort to make sure the whole series looks good.
Translator: No, not really. We didn’t really have this feeling that we were creating something special; but rather, when we looked at the story as a whole, holistically, we wanted to tell something that was beautiful and made the viewing experience for the viewers just much more greater. So that was sort of more of the motivation for taking that route.
AF: So, having worked with a yuri fantasy series with TenTen Kakumei and on shoujo works with The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent, which are different from your light novel type works, are those genres that have become of interest to you for future original works?
Chiaki translation: Me? Well, sure.
I do have an interest. Just, whether I can get it in my schedule and- (laughs)
If there’s money and time, I’d like to try it out.
Interpreter: I do have interest, but the problem is schedule and budget. So if we do get those lined up, then I would like to.
AF: Do you still keep your office job, even though you now work a lot more as a series composer and higher up jobs as an anime writer? And if you are, what about that appealed to you for such a long time, rather than wanting to shift to full time as an anime writer?
Watari: まだ続けてるんですけれども、もう今現在はもう出社せずに済む リモートワーク中心でやっているので、そんなに、何の影響もなく、普通に仕事している感じですね。
Chiaki translation: I am still working another job, but I don’t go into the office anymore and do it all remotely. So, it doesn’t really affect me that much and I just keep working normally.
Interpreter: Yeah, I am still working as a office worker; but now I’m able to work remotely, so I’m able to do both at the same time. It’s very flexible.
Chiaki translation: If I need to, I’ll go in.
Interpreter: And if I’m needed, I’ll go.
AF: What makes you want to stay there, rather than working in the anime industry full time?
Chiaki translation: Oh, how should I put this. If I’m working only in anime, I end up hanging around nothing but people in the anime industry. So the biggest reason might be because I want to keep having something else in my life.
Interpreter: If I work full time in the anime industry, I’ll only hang around with people who are related to the anime industry; but I really want to hang around with a more diverse set of people.
AF: Hoshino-san, thank you for your patience. I wanted to ask: Gagaga Bunko is an imprint aimed mainly at male readers. Does the company employ women as editors, or does it follow more Shonen Jump’s philosophy that women editors wouldn’t understand the target audience? [Editor’s Note: Shonen Jump did announce its first female editor, Jump+ alumnus Fujita-san, in November 2022].
Chiaki translation: We do have female editors.
Rather than being male or female, I feel what’s more important for an editor is what kind of entertainment they’ve consumed and that kind of background. The key thing they need to do is recognize what kind of works are interesting and be able to transmit them to audiences. So I really don’t think gender is all that important for something like that.
Interpreter: We do have women editors. But what I believe is, it’s a little bit beyond gender. We like to think, “in what ways can we best make the story beautiful, and in what way can we best tell the story?” And I think that was our primary motivation in getting people into our team.
AF: Is there a lot of crossover interaction between the teams at Gagaga and Lululu, the other imprint?
Interpreter: ガガガとラララ（sic ルルル）のチームはけっこう一緒に働いたりはしますか。
Chiaki translation: Well, this is just because of our company, but our office is separate now—we used to work out of the same editorial room, but now we don’t—so there’s no real opportunity to.
It’s really an issue with our company’s physical structure and nothing else.
Interpreter: So, it’s sort of an issue of the company structure, but before we had them in the same editor department, but now they’re sort of separate, so now they don’t have as much opportunities to work together.