How WUG was destroyed: The story of Ordet's bankruptcy
This gist is a rough translation/summary/rewording of a series of blog posts from Yamamoto Yutaka (hereafter "Yamakan"), the former director of the "Wake Up, Girls!" series, detailing the production issues that the franchised faced from his perspective as a result of his recent bankruptcy announcement. Parts of it have been omitted as they do not directly concern the production story.
As the posts are written by Yamakan directly, everything should be taken with multiple pinches of salt.
Disclaimer: I don't have any proper technical knowledge regarding animation production, so some of the terms might be mistaken. Also, most of these blog posts were translated at 1am after some drinking so there might be some genuine TL mistakes. If you spot any errors, please feel free to correct me. You can reach me on Twitter at @southro_p.
- Chapter 1: Shichinin no Idol, TV series, Seishun no Kage
- Chapter 2: Beyond the Bottom
- Chapter 3: X Day
- Chapter 4: Aftermath
The story begins in 2014, during the production of the first movie, Shichinin no Idol, and the subsequent TV anime. The production was contracted to Tatsunoko Production, a very well-known and veteran animation studio, and at the time, there were no financial issues to speak of. However, during the production of the series, Tatsunoko Production was acquired by Nippon TV and one of the main supporters of the project, then-President Tanaka Shuichiro, was removed from his post. As a result of this change, the production fell into chaos, and the quality of animation dropped (although apparently this was because work was subcontracted out to Gonzo and Millepensee). But somehow, they finished it.
After it was completed, Yamakan stated on Twitter that he would take responsibility and fix it up for the Blu-ray release. He requested that Tatsunoko cover the costs of the retakes, as it was their fault the original production suffered issues, but they refused any responsibility for retakes and Ordet (Yamakan's studio) ended up covering the costs. At the time, Ordet was a small company, with fewer than ten employees, so funding a project like this put a lot of strain on the company's finances. In order to make up for the loss, they would need to make a new WUG production.
Due to some convoluted negotiations, the production of the new WUG production was contracted to Ordet's parent company, Ultra Super Pictures (hereafter "USP"). It turned out that their intention was to "manage" the project and take a 5% cut from the budget as "management fees". That in itself was not that big an issue, but the important thing to note here is that the decision rights regarding the budget shifted from Ordet to USP.
As a result, the budget negotiations with the production committee were handled by Satomi Tetsuro, the president of Lidenfilms, another studio under the USP umbrella. Yamakan wasn't really happy with this, but his main concern was for the budget to be decided before his company went under, so he swallowed it. But as expected, the budget was small (160,000,000 yen). Apparently, Satomi had a record of embezzling funds by playing the middleman in other projects, so it's possible that happened here too.
At this point, Yamakan claims he made a few mistakes. First, he should have said that it couldn't have been done with that budget and halted production. But because of his love for WUG at the time, he didn't/couldn't, and it turned into this tragedy. The other mistake was choosing to co-produce with Millepensee. He had originally assumed that Lidenfilms would be co-producing, but they ended up running off atfer one (poorly made) episode. Due to the circumstances surrounding Tatsunoko Production at the time (due to their acquisition), Yamakan couldn't turn to them for help, so instead he turned to Shiraishi Naoko, a former producer at Gainax and representative director of Millepensee, for help.
Yamakan had been in contact with Millepensee since before the production of the WUG TV series. He knew of their founding the year before, and was aware that Shiraishi's husband, Itagaki Shin (director of a lot of anime), was one of the central figures there. It was full of new talent at the time, but Yamakan thought they would improve rapidly and so had asked them to get involved with the original series. However, the episodes that were subcontracted to them turned out to be of questionable quality. Yamakan assumed that this was because they were still learning the ropes and improving, but that turned out to be all they were capable of (see Shinsho for further proof). Another issue that plagued production was the fact that Ordet did not have any in-house producers. Yamakan tried to invite one, but was unable to in the end, which provied to be fatal.
By now, negotiations with avex had progressed well. The project was turned into a long-term project and began to push the voice actresses involved a lot more. The events held by avex with the voice actresses were turning a profit, making the project profitable overall. avex came up with the plan to keep the franchise alive perpetually by raising money via these events and using that to fund further anime productions and increase the number of cards they could play (according to Tanaka Hiroyuki, the general producer for WUG at avex at the time).
Anyway, avex placed an order for two further movies, probably taking into account the fact that Ordet's production capabilities meant a second TV series was impossible. One of the biggest requests was to address the animation quality. However, they were given a 160 million yen budget for both movies (60 min×2). For comparison, Kimi no Na wa (1 hr 52 min) had a budget of 300 million yen, and Koe no Katachi (2 hr 10 min) had a budget of 250 million yen. But due to Ordet's financial situation and Yamakan's passion, he swallowed the conditions again, and proceeded with production. The main staff of the production were at Ordet, but most of the production was handled by Millepensee. Under the agreement between the studios, Ordet was completely financing Millepensee, and expanded their studio premises to allow Millepensee staff to work on-site. However, their production capabilities, the amount of work, and the increased land rent, did not balance well with the schedule and budget.
Prioritising the efficiency of technical direction, Yamakan divided up the storyboard and technical direction work, but the overall production quality wasn't improving. Millepensee was unable to attract new animators. Yamakan tried to bring on other animators, but apparently, they didn't want to work under Shiraishi. But because they were specifically told to do something about the quality, Chikaoka Sunao (the original character designer for WUG) was prepared to do fixes himself on all the layouts if necessary. It turned out that a lot of the work produced by Millepensee weren't even up to the standard for TV anime, let alone a movie.
As a result, Yamakan brought on Yamazaki Yuta (veteran animator and technical director), Aritomi Kouji (former Ghibli technical director who worked with Yamakan on Senyuu.), and Watanabe Masaharu (former Kyoto Animation) to handle technical direction while he continued to work on the storyboards for Beyond the Bottom. But this wasn't enough. On top of that, Chikaoka had started doing fixes himself, effectively becoming the bottleneck, and the flow of cuts slowed as a result. Yamakan begged Chikaoka to let some cuts go so that the production schedule wouldn't completely fall apart.
While all this was happening, Shiraishi was apparently doing nothing. Yamakan describes her as the type of producer who didn't try to communicate. She would act high and mighty to people who listen to her but wouldn't (or couldn't) say anything to the people that were actually producing content. He theorises that she has a fear of creators from her time at Gainax. Apparently when in trouble, she would just secretly outsource everything to an overseas studio and have them finish it, even when she was at Gainax (according to a warning Yamakan got from a former Gainax employee). And unfortunately, that's exactly what happened. Shiraishi would throw everything at an overseas studio, and Chikaoka would then manually fix everything they got back. It was incredibly inefficient and a huge waste of the budget.
Like this, Seishun no Kage was somehow completed, albeit with delays and quality issues. But at this point, the entire budget for both movies had already been used up.
Having just completed Seishun no Kage, Beyond the Bottom was looking to be nigh impossible both budget-wise and schedule-wise. And for some reason, Millepensee chose to move out of the Ordet studio at this timing and relocate to their current location. While it seems unrelated at first glance, Ordet was under contract to cover all of Millepensee's expenses, which meant covering the relocation cost and the land rent for both the now-vacated plot and Millepensee's new plot. And this was only the beginning.
Yamakan applied for a budget increase from USP, and requested a schedule extension from avex, as they wouldn't be able to produce anything decent otherwise. USP agreed to provide up to another 60 million yen, and negotiations with avex were looking positive. But that's where Millepensee started to revolt. They complained that if the schedule was extended, they wouldn't be able to work on their next productions and the company would be in trouble (though at the time all they had was Teekyuu and some 2D parts of the Berserk anime (which was mostly done in 3D)).
According to Yamakan, Shiraishi and Itagaki are people who don't like it when things don't go the way they want, and they were probably frustrated that their outsourced work (on Seishun no Kage) had been modified by Chikaoka without their knowledge/permission. They began to request changes to the storyboards, requesting things like reducing the number of cuts where all seven of the main characters appear together, as it was more work to draw seven characters. However, as WUG is a story about the seven characters, it would be ridiculous to not show all of them together. But their priority was not creating quality content but producing something quickly and easily. You can see how that went in Shinsho. Suppressing his anger, Yamakan began making cuts to the storyboards, so much that the transitions were becoming a mess.
The direction staff for Beyond the Bottom was kept the same as the Seishun no Kage with the intention of maintaining the production speed (sacrificing on quality). However, Millepensee (or rather Itagaki), suddenly requested the removal of Aritomi, who was effectively Yamakan's right-hand-man at the time. Apparently Aritomo had supervised some new hires at Millepensee and kindly taught them some techniques with the intention of increasing the production efficiency. This appeared to have incurred Itagaki's wrath.
Furthermore, a new technical director under Itagaki's wing during Seishun no Kage followed Itagaki's direction and started all the cuts from the beginning of the dialogue, which really pissed of the editor. Yamakan told this new technical director to not trust everything Itagaki says, which probably enraged Itagaki as the new technical director was removed from Beyond the Bottom.
As Yamakan finished up work on the storyboards for Part B, work stopped flowing to Aritomi, who was in charge of the technical direction for that part. Yamakan protested to Shiraishi and Itagaki, but it fell upon deaf ears. Dejected, he requested that they provide a new technical director to replace Aritomi.
However, a month went by without any updates. The completed 200+ storyboards for part B had been sitting on Yamakan's desk the whole time. When he asked Millepensee what was going on, they blamed him for the delay. At this point, Yamakan wanted to cut off Millepensee, but because production management was being handled by USP, he couldn't really just do that, especially after they provided extra financing for the production of Beyond the Bottom.
Meanwhile, Itagaki and Shiraishi's plot was taking form...
X Day was August 8, 2015, the day of WUG's 2nd tour's Tokyo concert. Most of the staff had plans to attend the afternoon session, but Yamakan chose to go to the night session so he could do some work during the day. But when he entered the studio, he found that all the completed cuts that were in the studio were missing. Apparently Millepensee had conspired with USP to steal all the cuts from Ordet. Not just the work that Yamakan and Chikaoka did, but also Yamazaki, Sawada, and all other Ordet staff. In other words, the company that USP decided to cut off wasn't Millepensee, but Ordet.
However, as USP was still obligated to manage and deliver the production, they couldn't cut off Ordet entirely. Not only would that be a production risk, but it also wouldn't be easy to explain to the production committee. So, the compromise they came up with was to get Ordet to handle only the dance sequences. But because Ordet was no longer involved with the main production, Millepensee would need new technical directors and supervisors. Obviously, that would translate to higher production costs.
However, feeling an obligation towards Beyond the Bottom, they started secretly doing retakes as a last resort. They were able to see the work that Millepensee produced, and secretly redid scenes that they felt weren't good enough (like the scene where Nanami cries). Production continued like this, and Beyond the Bottom was eventually completed.
At this point, planning meetings for S3 had already begun. The true hell followed.
This is where the final boss made his appearance. Matsuura Hiroaki, the president of USP, had barely been involved up to this point. As a result of stealing Beyond the Bottom from Ordet and letting Millepensee have their way with it, the original budget of 60 million yen was exceeded by another 60 million yen. However, as preparation for S3 began to ramp up, Matsuura appeared and told Yamakan to repay the extra 60 million yen that was "borrowed" from the S3 budget.
This was outrageous to Yamakan, as there was no reason for Ordet to pay for what Millepensee did. Not to mention, USP was the one managing the production, so Yamakan refused to pay. And that's when Matsuura threw a childish tantrum.
Effectively immediately, Yamakan was removed as the director of Ordet, and informed via a lawyer. Yamakan also lawyered up and claimed unfair dismissal, but he picked a bad lawyer. Apparently, the lawyer he picked was such a big name in the industry that he didn't take the case seriously. But more importantly, the rights to the WUG IP weren't actually under Yamakan's name, but under Ordet, which meant that USP now held the rights to WUG, and Yamakan became the sole guarantor to Ordet's debt.
Although Yamakan was no longer the representative director of Ordet, he wasn't removed as the director of WUG S3, as explicitly confirmed in memorandums exchanged between Matsuura and Yamakan. One of the clauses in these memoramdums also prohibited Yamakan from disclosing details about WUG, though he ended up explaining as much as he could after Shinsho, out of a sense of responsibility.
However, avex's producer, Tanaka Hiroyuki chose this point to betray Yamakan and had him removed from his post as director, choosing to work with Millepensee and Itagaki. The real reasoning behind this move by TanakaP remains unknown to Yamakan, but he suspects it was a power grab to take full control of the franchise. Apparently TanakaP was being called "Emperor" by people around him at the time.
And thus, WUG was created, and subsequently destroyed.