By Tom Speelman
As a visual medium, anime is often thought of on the creative side as being the product of directors and animation studios. While that’s of course true, screenwriters also have their part to play, with the same writer oftentimes responsible for the majority of scripts for an anime, contributing a great deal alongside the director and studio to keep a production consistent.
One of the most important scriptwriters in anime history is Dai Sato. The co-creator (along with JIN and Taichi Hashimoto) behind this season’s Listeners, a new original anime from MAPPA and director Hiroaki Ando, Sato has contributed to some of the most iconic anime series of the last 30 years.
In celebration of Listeners’ premiere—which you can stream right now on Funimation—we’re taking a look back at some of those series, highlighting Sato’s contributions to each. Let’s dive in!
Cowboy Bebop (1998)
Anyway, Cowboy Bebop, among its other accolades, holds the distinction of being Dai Sato’s first major production as a staff writer, with his name on three episodes: “Jamming With Edward,” “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Brain Scratch Fever.” What episodes they are!
“Jamming With Edward” is actually my personal favorite of the series because it introduces the show’s (in my opinion) best character, Radical Edward aka Ed aka Edward Wong Hau Pepelu Tivrusky IV (Aoi Tada, Melissa Fahn). But it’s also ridiculously entertaining and fun, not only showing off the show’s version of Earth for the first time, but giving us a fun romp with Ed messing with the Bebop crew and the police, all while making friends with a lonely artificial intelligence on a satellite.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” has a similar tone of loneliness alleviated through technology, with Ed playing holographic chess against an ancient hacker and chess grandmaster that the crew wind up pursuing, but it plays a bit more seriously than “Jamming With Edward.”
“Brain Scratch,” the final episode credited to Sato, sees Faye (Megumi Hayashibara, Wendee Lee) infiltrate a transhumanist cult to try and collect a bounty on its leader. In each of these episodes, Sato’s scripts examine the relationship between humanity and technology and ponder where it might go, in the very best science fiction tradition.
Wolf’s Rain (2003)
In between working as principal writer on both seasons of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Sato also wrote seven episodes of Wolf’s Rain, a bleak end-of-the-world tale from BONES (My Hero Academia, Mob Psycho 100), Sato’s fellow Cowboy Bebop writer Keiko Nobumoto and director Tensai Okamura.
If you’ve never watched it, the plot takes place in a far-flung dystopian future where all mountains and forests have been stripped bare and the entire world’s surface is industrialized. An old legend states that when the world ends (as many think it’s about to), a heavenly place known as Paradise will appear, although it can only be found by wolves. As wolves appear to have been hunted to extinction over 200 years ago, this doesn’t seem to be an option.
But wolves aren’t extinct, after all. Instead, they’ve gone into hiding among humans, using illusions to make themselves appear human, though their true nature is still evident.
Meeting up in the black Freeze City because they smell the Lunar Flower, said to be the key to Paradise, four wolves—the impulsive, distrustful Kiba (Mamoru Miyano, Johnny Yong Bosch); taciturn loner Tsume (Kenta Miyake, Crispin Freeman); goofy, womanizing Hige (Akio Suyama, Joshua Seth); and young, shy Toboe (Hiroki Shimowada, Mona Marshall)—team up to find the path to Paradise, which sees their paths cross with the mysterious Cheza (Arisa Ogasawara, Sherry Lynn) and the evil Darcia (Takaya Kuroda, Steve Blum).
Wolf’s Rain was a cult hit in the ’00s, and watching it today, you realize why. This is a stunning, vividly realized tale of hope versus apathy at the end of the world, and a unique eco-fable of malaise and optimism combined with pulse-pounding action. Believe the hype.
Samurai Champloo (2004)
Shinichiro Watanabe’s follow-up to Cowboy Bebop—which had hip-hop in place of jazz as its main musical motif, with a soundtrack by the legendary Nujabes that launched the modern lo-fi hip-hop craze—is a brilliant piece of work in its own right, with astonishing animation by the now-defunct manglobe.
Dai Sato wrote five episodes, and they’re as goofy and heartfelt as his earlier work. The two standouts for my money are “The Art of Altercation,” where a goofy would-be samurai crushing on Fuu (Ayako Kawasumi, Kari Wahlgren) reveals to her that Jin (Ginpei Sato, Kirk Thornton) is wanted for killing his master, and “War of the Words,” where Fuu inspires a feud between two graffiti artists and Mugen (Kazuya Nakai, Steve Blum) is abducted and forcibly taught to read by an alcoholic ex-teacher.
Samurai Champloo has an overarching plot like Cowboy Bebop, which means it’s best enjoyed as a series where a tight-knit group of heroes get into scrapes. Sato’s scripts understand this, nailing the distinctive tone of an alternate tale of life under the Tokugawa shogunate.
Eureka Seven (2005)
Dai Sato served as both a writer and as the series composer (essentially a head writer) for this BONES mecha series by director Tomoki Kyoda. And Eureka Seven still has a passionate fanbase almost 15 years later. (Especially with the recent release of the HI-EVOLUTION films.)
If you’ve never seen it, the series takes place in a far-off future where humanity is plagued by mysterious creatures known as Scub Coral and can harness particles in the atmosphere known as Transparence Light Particles to use for flight on both conventional aircraft and through “ref boards,” a kind of surfboard that humans can ride on their own or at the helm of massive robots.
One such robot, Nirvash, crashes into the house of 14-year-old Renton Thurston (Yuko Sanpei, Johnny Yong Bosch). Renton immediately falls in love with its pilot, the reticent Eureka (Kaori Nazuka, Stephanie Sheh), who hires his mechanic granddad to repair it.
But a mysterious piece of equipment—invented by Renton’s dead father, a military genius who saved the world—activates Nirvash’s full powers. Excited by this, Eureka reveals that she’s a member of Gekkostate—an anti-government militia/counterculture collective led by hotshot pilot Holland (Keiji Fujiwara, Crispin Freeman)—and invites Renton to join because he makes her laugh, setting in motion a series of events that’ll change the world.
While the series’ CG and combat animation looks a little dated today, it’s still pretty damn stunning most of the time, and a reminder that BONES has always made exciting anime. With Sato at the helm, you’re in for a good time.
Ergo Proxy (2006)
While Eureka Seven was chiefly meant for kids, down to its toyetic premise of “robots on surfboards,” Dai Sato went more adult with his next series as chief writer. Say hello to the bleak, dystopian sci-fi Ergo Proxy.
Another manglobe production that, like Cowboy Bebop, originally aired on Japanese satellite network WOWOW, this series takes place on a post-environmental collapse Earth, where humanity is centered in the domed, seemingly utopian city of Romdo, where recent immigrants are heavily discriminated against.
The series kicks off with a string of brutal murders by human-serving androids seemingly infected with the mysterious Cogito Virus. The virus grants them self-awareness and renders them uncontrollable by humans, threatening the delicate balance of things. An investigator at the Civilian Intelligence Bureau (and the granddaughter of the city regent), Re-l (Rie Saito, Karen Thompson), is assigned to investigate these murders alongside her AutoReiv, Iggy (Kiyomitsu Mizuuchi, Travis Willingham).
But things spiral out of control fast, as Re-l gets caught up in a conspiracy alongside Vincent Law (Koji Yusa, Liam O’Brien) and infected AutoReiv Pino (Akiko Yajima, Rachel Hirschfeld) that involves mysterious creatures known as Proxies and the heart of the Romdo government itself.
Part Brazil, part Blade Runner, part The Matrix, Ergo Proxy is a dark (sometimes literally), arresting series that raises intriguing questions about how far humanity would go to stave off environmental collapse and our relationship to technology. Ably boosted by Sato’s intelligent, compelling scripts and Shuko Murase’s steely direction, the series is a whip-smart blend of cyberpunk tropes and bone-crunching violence.
Space Dandy (2014)
After writing episodes of shows like Eden of the East and Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, Dai Sato teamed up with Shinichiro Watanabe again as a scripter on the daffy absurdist comedy, Space Dandy.
The series follows the adventures of Dandy (Junichi Suwabe, Ian Sinclair), his robot buddy QT (Uki Satake, Alison Viktorin) and dim-bulb alien Meow (Hiroyuki Yoshino, Joel McDonald) as they seek out new alien species to register them with the Alien Registration Center. Of course, this is in between visits to the restaurant chain BooBies (because Dandy is an admirer of the female form, baby), all while being pursued by the nefarious Dr. Gel (Unsho Ishizuka, J. Michael Tatum) of the Gogol Empire.
The series, animated by BONES with music by the Space Dandy Band, is a hoot, with each episode doubling down on the weird and goofy—which always adds up to a good time.
Sato wrote four episodes, including “The Search for the Phantom Space Ramen, Baby,” where our heroes search for a unique ramen made by an undiscovered type of alien, and “The War of the Undies and Vests, Baby,” which sees Dandy and Meow fight in their underwear over whether or not you should wear underwear. If you missed this goofy nonsense when it premiered in 2014, you should check it out ASAP.
Puzzle & Dragons X (2016)
The success of Eureka Seven and other series eventually enabled Sato to create his own company, storyriders, which he uses to front his projects. These range from wholly original shows to those based on existing source material like Puzzle & Dragons X.
Adapted from a Nintendo 3DS spinoff of a match-three mobile game, Puzzle & Dragons X (which Sato again acted as series composer on as well as writing the first episode, “Drop Impact”) follows Ace (Takuto Yoshinaga, Josh Grelle), a young boy who longs to become a Dragon Caller to battle other monsters and maintain the Earth’s balance. He gets his chance when an egg calls to him, hatching into the cute, goofy Tamazo (Tomoko Kaneda, Alexis Tipton), a little egg monster who believes in Ace.
Alongside Tamazo, his new friend Charo (Yuka Terasaki, Apphia Yu) and the skeptical Dragonoid Lance (Tetsuya Kakihara, Justin Briner), Ace fights villains in his quest to become a great Dragon Caller like his dad.
If this setup reminds you of other creature-based series like Digimon, Bakugan and so on, that’s pretty much its vibe. Not too scary for kids but still plenty thrilling thanks to compelling animation by Studio Pierrot and the steady hand of director Hajime Kamegaki, Puzzle & Dragons X is a good gateway into action anime for kids of all ages.
Brought to life with the help of acclaimed musician Jin (MEKAKUCITY ACTORS, Kagerou Daze), the great studio MAPPA (Yuri!! On ICE, Terror in Resonance), producer and co-creator Taichi Hashimoto (The Tower of Druaga: Aegis of Uruk, .hack//Quantum), director Hiroaki Andou (Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle), sound director Kisuke Koizumi (Dororo, All Out!!), Dai Sato didn’t just create and write this new original anime, he’s also composing the music.
In a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by shadowy monsters called the Earless, the series follows Echo Rec (Ayumu Murase, Justin Briner), a young boy who, like everyone else, admires the Players—humans who physically link with mecha called Equipment to both battle the Earless and, for sport, each other. Echo is even building his own Equipment but has long since resigned himself to being a humble trash picker roaming through the mountains of garbage outside his hometown of Liverchester for scrap.
But his life changes when he comes across μ, pronounced “Miu” (Rie Takahashi, Bryn Apprill), an amnesiac girl who has an auxiliary port in her lower back—the telltale mark of a Player. Together, they’ll rock the foundation of society, take down the Earless and maybe bring light and hope back to the world. With great mecha designs, an intriguing world and a fun duo in Echo and μ, this promises to be one of the highlights of the spring season!
What’s your favorite Dai Sato anime? Do you have any other favorite anime screenwriters? Share this post and let us know!
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