New Reports on Manga Author Ashihara Hinako’s Death Poorly Received

New Reports on Manga Author Ashihara Hinako’s Death Poorly Received

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Sexy Tanakan-san
Picture: NTV
Authors and fans alike are criticizing reports from TV station NTV and publisher Shogakukan on the death of manga author Ashihara Hinako. Here's what each report claims to have found.

(Note: This story discusses suicide.)

It’s been half a year since the world lost manga author Ashihara Hinako (芦原妃名子). The talent behind the series Sexy Tanaka-san, about a working woman in her 40s who takes up bellydancing as a form of self-expression, showcased the diversity and depth of manga as an artistic genre.

In January of this year, Ashihara was the center of a public dispute over the TV adaptation of Sexy Tanaka-san. On January 29th, police in Tochigi Prefecture found Ashihara’s body. An investigation ruled her death a suicide.

Now, twin reports from her publisher, Shogakukan, and from TV station NTV purport to divulge what went so wrong with the adaptation. The reports aren’t sitting well with either fans or authors.

The reports

Sand Chronicles by Ashihara Hinako
One of Ashihara’s previous works, Sand Chronicles, was also adapted for TV and screen. The experience led her own publisher, Shogakukan, to brand her a “difficult author.”

As I wrote in my previous article, the controversy surrounds changes that NTV made to Ashihara’s story during development. Ashihara felt that the last two episodes were so poorly written that she took over scriptwriting. She took on the assignment well aware that she didn’t have a background in screenwriting.

After fans criticized both episodes, the original screenwriter, Aizawa Tomoko, tweeted publicly that Ashihara had written them over her objections. Ashihara wrote her own rebuttal to the tweet, sparking a very public feud between the two. The disagreement led to both Ashihara and Aizawa suffering severe abuse online.

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Shortly after this public dispute, Ashihara apologized, deleted her blog and social media posts, and disappeared.

The twin reports aren’t the product of third-party firms. Both were produced by legal teams within Shogakukan and NTV. NTV dropped its report on May 31st. Shogakukan released its report a few days later, on June 3rd.

Writer Suzuki Takahiro, writing for Toyo Keizai, compares the dueling reports to Akutagawa Ryonosuke’s story “In the Grove,” the basis for Kurosawa Akira’s famous movie Rashomon, saying the two contain multiple inconsistencies. In particular, the two reports dispute what happened that led to screenwriter Aizawa and Ashihara issuing dueling perspectives online.

Scene disputes

For its part, Shogakukan identified that things went south between the Ashihara and Aizawa around episode 3, as no one communicated to Aizawa that Ashihara was heavily invested in the episode strictly following the manga.

In particular, one bellydancing scene was so contrary to the actual history and performance of the art that Ashihara demanded it be fixed. However, NTV refused, saying they’d already filmed it.

Shogakukan says that Ashihara wrote her tweet with the cooperation of three Shogakukan employees. However, it says the employees should have done more to involve their managers and escalate the situation before it spiraled out of control.

No credit

Regarding episode 3, NTV’s team says the station didn’t do enough to communicate the realities of TV adaptation to the author. In particular, most of the changes made to this episode were driven, not by the scriptwriter, but by the business – e.g., not wanting to reveal too much skin in a scene, and taking care not to offend the program’s sponsors.

NTV’s report says the station’s failure to communicate this resulted in Ashihara losing confidence in Aizawa, even though it wasn’t Aizawa driving many of those decisions.

According to NTV’s team, Ashihara and Shogakukan demanded that Ashihara take over writing episodes 9 and 10, as Ashihara had lost confidence in Aizawa. Aizawa reportedly still wanted screen credit as a “collaborator” for these episodes. However, Shogakukan fought NTV bitterly over this. Ultimately, NTV agreed and left her name off.

Suzuki, in his Toyo Keizai write-up of the reports, notes that, even if Ashihara did write the scripts, this is highly unusual for TV. Normally, all of the members of the core production committee would receive credit for their work. In other words, Aizawa had a reason to be angry here.

Aizawa told NTV that she would tweet her frustrations instead. NTV alleges it didn’t stop her on “freedom of speech” grounds. Neither Shogakukan nor NTV requested she take the tweet down even after it exploded.

“Difficult author”

Excerpt from NTV report in which someone from Shogakukan calls Ashihara a "difficult author"
In this snippet from page 10 of the Shogakukan report, C & D, who are from Shogakukan, say that Ashihara has been “difficult” in the past.

One thing is clear from both reports: Shogakukan didn’t take its author seriously. More to the point, they regarded her as a pain in the ass.

The words 難しい作家 (muzukashii sakka, difficult author) occur in both reports. In the NTV report, two employees from Shogakukan tell NTV that they’ve had fights with the author about adaptations before and she can be “a difficult author.” One of Ashihara’s previous works, Sand Chronicles (砂時計; suna-dokei), was adapted into both a drama by TBS as well as a movie.

Interestingly, the report clarifies in parentheses that a “difficult author” is one who is “strongly picky about her work.”

That same term appears again from the mouth of a Shogakukan employee in the Shogakukan report. Again, the report clarifies that a “difficult author” is one who “issues detailed directives to protect her story’s worldview.”

Excerpt from Shogakukan report calling Ashihara Hinako a "difficult author"

I would just call that “an author” but, hey, maybe that’s just me.

The conclusions

Shogakukan’s report says the company should set up a consultation office for authors who run into such problems. It’s also considering implementing more stringent measures where authors don’t speak out on their own but can utilize the company as a “shield” against public criticism.

NTV’s report concludes that one of the main causes of the incident was overloading producers with too much work. The report says the station needs to offload other duties from producers so they can give each show the attention it deserves. It also vows to fix communication errors and also educate employees that they can use the “NTV Hotline” to consult the company on pressing issues.

Authors, fans react

After Ashihara died, many manga and novel authors took to social media to rail against both Shogakukan and NTV. All of them said they’ve had the same experience as Ashihara with TV producers trampling over their work – and publishers refusing to stand up for them.

Judging from comments online, neither authors nor fans are pleased with either company’s self-accounting.

Mikami En, author of the light novel series Biblia Used Bookstore Casebook (ビブリア古書堂の事件手帖; Biburia Koshodou no Jiken Techou), wrote on X: “I read the Shogakukan report. I could feel my limbs grow numb as the contents made me recall several incidents from my own past. Putting aside my feelings as best I can and reading the conclusions, I find this report meaningless.”

Eizoken author: “I’m so angry”

Mikami further blasted both sides for conducting their own investigation. “There should be a full-up independent committee that includes the author’s side. Absent that, these investigations and announcements have no merit.”

Others couldn’t calm down enough to compose a rational thought. Sumito Oowara, the author of Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!, tweeted: “I’m so angry reading the reports from Shogakukan and NHK. I mean, I feel like it’s better for now if I just don’t say anything.”

Another popular tweet blasted NTV for its stated goal with the report:

X user azabu_food on the Sexy Tanaka-san report from NTV

“I read NTV’s report. The aim of the report misses the mark. The aim shouldn’t be to ‘create a system where the drama production team members can tackle the production more safely,’ but to make a drama that doesn’t lead to the author killing herself. I mean, NTV’s clearly the aggressor in this situation.”

It’s unclear why neither NTV nor Shogakukan thought an independent, third-party investigation was warranted. The initial reaction made it clear that the public didn’t trust either company to police itself.

These dueling reports are unlikely to be the final word on Ashihara’s tragic death. If anything, they only seem to exacerbate the perception that both TV studios and publishers view manga authors as troublesome commodities.

If you or someone you love is in crisis, please reach out for helpThose in Japan you can call the following numbers:

0570-064-556 for kokoro-no-kenkou-soudan (こころの健康相談) operated by prefectorial and city organizations

0570-783-556 for inochi-no-denwa (いのちの電話) operated by Federation of Inochi No Denwa.

For English language help in Japan, reach out to TELL.

If you are in the US call 911 for emergencies and 988 for the suicide hotline.

Other international resources

Sources

「セクシー田中さん」報告書に批判殺到の根本原因. Toyo Keizai

「セクシー田中さん問題」小学館が調査報告書 日本テレビ側を問題視「脚本家のSNS削除を求めなかった」. Tokyo Shimbun

「セクシー田中さん」報告書に欠けた”問題の本質”. Toyo Keizai

「セクシー田中さん」 調査報告書. NTV

調査報告書. Shogakukan

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Jay Allen

Jay is a resident of Tokyo where he works as a reporter for Unseen Japan and as a technial writer. A lifelong geek, wordsmith, and language fanatic, he has level N1 certification in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) and is fervently working on his Kanji Kentei Level 2 certification.

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