Animating A Silent World – Yubisaki to Renren / A

Animating A Silent Global – Yubisaki to Renren / A Signal Of Affection Manufacturing Notes

Both in the original manga and in its anime adaptation, Yubisaki to Renren / A Sign Of Affection combines extensive research and ingenious creative choices to respectfully, charmingly depict the world of its deaf protagonist. This is the story of a beautifully abnormal production.

When Yubisaki to Renren / A Sign of Affection opens, Yuki instantly welcomes us into her world. Even though her reality is different from other people’s, she manages to have a happy existence despite this. She has pals with whom she can share her interests in adorable fashion and obtaining excellent deals on clothing; in fact, the subjective change in the anime’s color palette when she is introduced suggests that her viewpoint is more optimistic than the ordinary person’s. However, Yuki also happens to be deaf, as shown by a specific ringing noise and the absence of any diegetic SFX other than those that produce physical reverberations. The main issue for Yubisaki was always going to be to respectfully reflect the realities of individuals like her while still communicating the worldview we can already infer from that opening scene.

Since writer/storyboarder Makiro and illustrator Nachiyan share the pen name Morishita suu, it wasn’t a problem that the anime adaptation had to deal with; rather, it was one that the original authors were well aware of. In such interviews as this one conducted for Spica Works, the organization that represents female mangaka, they have discussed how their collaboration began and specifically addressed Yubisaki’s past. They both hail from the same city, and because they both like manga, they have been friends since they first attended school together at the age of fifteen. Like many young people, they had aspirations of becoming professionals in their pastime, but by the time they met, their efforts to enter their creations in talent-hunting competitions had already waned.

Many years later, when they’d both settled down as housewives and kept in touch despite moving to separate prefectures, the notion of working together to pursue their former ambition was floated. Surprisingly, Bakuman’s tale was the one that made them understand they could pool their complimentary skill sets to work toward that objective. They formally launched themselves the following year, having taken that choice on May 21st, 2009. After completing two significant serializations over the course of the next ten years, Like a Butterfly and Short Cake Cake, both including twelve volumes, they realized that they had been wanting to address sign language in their next project.

Funny enough, neither had mentioned it since they knew how difficult it would be for the other to handle; a lot of study would be needed to address it correctly from a literary perspective, and an equal amount of detail would need to be captured visually for that to be effective. Nachiyan mentioned that subject as they were stumbling with a proposal that might persuade their editor, and they both decided it would be worth the additional work. Their research approach started with everyone on board, even if their concepts weren’t quite clear. Their foundation was laid by their personal experience with sign language, specialist literature, and a variety of interviews; yet, it became evident to them that a great deal of information would need ongoing oversight by those with hearing impairments. Seeking that first-hand experience, they made their way to the sign language café where they met Yuki Miyazaki. They clicked so quickly that she became Yubisaki’s supervisor of sign language; their quick friendship was sparked in part by the fact that she had the same name as their intended series protagonist.

They still get together once a month to hang around, listen to Miyazaki’s tales, practice sign language, and poke her with questions about possible reactions in various scenarios. They provided the following synopsis of their real working procedure in the volume releases for the series: Makiro contacts Miyazaki with the storyboards so that she may examine them and acquire the necessary sign language. This enables them to film films of the language in use, which they then provide to Nachiyan so that she can start sketching seriously. Beyond this more technical assistance in representing sign language, Miyazaki’s experiences have improved their understanding of what Yuki’s typical day-to-day activities might entail. For example, they now know how she would position herself to read lips more accurately, what kinds of words she might find difficult, and the precise ways that sounds blend together.

This has allowed them to turn Yubisaki’s portrayal of the deaf person’s way of life into one of its most compelling and engaging features, together with the thoughts of their editor. What really sticks out is how well they’ve managed to transfer those experiences into images, in addition to their extensive knowledge of the subject and the precision of the sign language.

The textboxes that depict Yuki’s lipreading have less opacity right away, as you may have noticed. In addition to capturing her perspective, it also deftly controls the information so that the reader can quickly determine whether or not the heroine has understood a sentence—a crucial skill when working with a deaf protagonist. This tactic is further developed in that it is used to flip or jumble material when Yuki is unable to read it (usually using strange or unusual terms, as the writers were informed often occurs), and it even functions as a plot device in dramatic moments. One method to put the reader in Yuki’s shoes at that point would be to alter the font size at random while she’s crying to illustrate how difficult it is for her to read lips at the moment. The way Yubisaki portrays hearing disability has rightfully gained a great reputation thanks to a strong base of first-hand experiences, technological expertise, and the appropriate number of cunning visual gimmicks.

This clarifies the how, but it still begs a crucial question: what message does Yubisaki want to get through? Those gatherings, such as the one with Miyazaki, contributed to the solidification of the writers’ idea, in a sense. Seeing her behave like a completely normal girl made me clear that Yuki the character should be greater than her disability and that a person who is deaf is first and foremost the latter. They didn’t want to go too far in the direction of reality and make Yuki’s deafness seem like an inevitable cause of sadness, but they also didn’t want to adopt an overtly moralistic stance. If anything, their goal was to write a love tale that Miyazaki, their new buddy, would be happy to find enjoyable. According to Nachiyan, she intended to create a manga that would, ideally, encourage those who lack bravery to go ahead and accomplish as rapidly as Yubisaki’s characters do. And because those objectives appealed to the people behind the anime adaptation, that’s our opportunity to go forward.

Speaking to Yubisaki’s magazine Dessert themselves in 2023, series director Yuta Murano revealed that the project was first pitched to him in a private meeting with Kodansha representatives, shortly after he had led the adaptation of Kakushigoto for them. This is confirmed by the fact that the meeting took place three years earlier, meaning that the project started in 2020. Murano says in both of them that he was instantly on board since he had always wanted to direct a shoujo anime. He was also never alone aboard the ship since the project was specifically designed for that other someone as well.

Although writer Youko Yonaiyama has only just entered the anime business, she has already composed several successes, including Uma Musume and Skip & Loafer, and is a well-known series composer with works like Paripi Koumei under her credit. Her business card, which she uses in the anime industry, clearly states that she is available for events and teaching sign language in addition to her normal writing duties, which is why she was hired. As she told Dessert, having deaf parents of her own really makes her cautious about works that tackle that issue since, in her opinion, they often fail to capture its truth or just take advantage of it for cheesy melodrama. But even before Yonaiyama had received a job offer, Yubisaki had won her over with its upbeat attitude and their research shown in little aspects like the difference between Japanese Sign Language and Signed Japanese. She thus took the job on without delay.

Director Murano thought the series seemed contemporary when he first read it. That’s the phrase he used to characterize its worldview and how it shows up in its treatment of the protagonist in both the aforementioned interviews and this article for Mantan Web. Yubisaki, who rejects outdated notions, won’t put someone in a wheelchair or other restrictive term if they don’t see their circumstances that way. Additionally, the anime treats Yuki in this way since her perspective is much more optimistic and burden-free than that. This kind of thinking intrigued Murano, who stressed in meetings that hearing loss shouldn’t be seen as intrinsically terrible. Frequently problematic, to be sure, but never pitiful—in fact, he thought it was honorable that someone like Yuki would effectively interact with others in spite of everything. Although he has said emphatically that there are outstanding works that depict the struggles of deafness from a more dramatic aspect, Yubisaki never intended for this to be his aim.

A more open discussion between Murano, Yonaiyama, and the Morishita suu pair on the authors’ fansite disclosed an intriguing tidbit in this respect. The filmmaker said that he was about to divulge something that he had never revealed before when questioned about his thoughts about the work once again. Receiving this job offer reminded him of a time in his college years when he had dated a person who only had one working ear. When she offered to take notes for kids who were completely deaf, Murano questioned whether there was anything he could do to assist as well. Ultimately, he was never able to take that action, which could have led to the breakup of that relationship. As a result, he sometimes has nightmares about his inaction at the time. Giving this endeavor his all has also eased him personally since he saw a series in Yubisaki about individuals who had the bravery to accomplish what he couldn’t bring himself to.

Murano and Yonaiyama continued to compliment Yuki on her proactive outreach to others in spite of her illness and her bravery in approaching a crush who lives in a completely different reality than her own. Unaware that they were using exactly the same words that Nachiyan had used years before to express the emotion that drives her to create this series—the desire to uplift individuals who don’t feel capable of taking the initial step in a new path. Although it has a deaf heroine, Yubisaki is not about deafness; rather, it tells the story of a courageous girl who meets a lovely traveler. Their concentration on communication unites the two of them—one via her lipreading and sign language, the other via his extensive exposure to diverse cultures. They perceive something both familiar and unfamiliar in each other, which motivates them to go further. Even though it was crucial to respectfully depict characters like Yuki, this is the real focus of the narrative, which is why its authors see it as an idealistic shoujo romance first and foremost—one that purposefully maintains a starry-eyed aesthetic while using reality to ground the lived experiences of those who are deaf.

It’s time to return to the original topic and discuss how the anime translates all those themes, after describing how the manga captures the reality of a deaf person and what its original writers and animation crew are trying to portray. Even though the concepts were well-established, the format shift required reconsidering the storytelling’s breadth and depth. Since the original relied on various text representations to address Yuki’s condition, for instance, an anime where that element is much less prevalent—though not entirely absent—would need to provide strong substitutes. And the team decided to rely especially heavily on its core personnel in order to do this without losing sight of the personalities. which is to say, about the two individuals we have been discussing.

This was writer Yonaiyama’s first project in which she authored every single screenplay. This is not unprecedented, but it is nevertheless a significant accomplishment, particularly in light of her dual responsibilities as supervisor of sign language. But Murano’s decision to storyboard each episode as well was when things really started to get interesting. This was the kind of endeavor the filmmaker had always wanted to do, and Yubisaki’s unique requirements made it a task well worth taking on. He clarified in the aforementioned Mantan Web interview that there are just too many details in the series to keep track of, including the subtle and occasionally subdued emotions, all the silent expressions from the manga that are difficult to translate, the use of sign language and how it interacts with the regular acting, and the overall economy of it all. If they had left this to independent directors, it may have gone wrong and been much more effort.

Even that, Murano said in a subsequent interview with Animate Times, wasn’t sufficient. He could maintain the integrity of Yuki’s portrayal by storyboarding every scene, making sure, for instance, that she is always speaking directly to the other person. This is something anime typically eschews because directors usually want to make dialogue visually captivating. And yet, because Yubisaki was still intended to be an enjoyable work of fiction, it’s not like he could just ignore those objectives that his contemporaries typically have either. He had to maintain control over the pacing as well as the staging and variety of framing, all the while being aware that shoddy editing may destroy elements such as the sign language. As a result, he took on even more work for himself, acknowledging that although if the credits did not show it, he was in fact the episode director for eight of the twelve episodes. Storyboarding took up almost all of Murano’s 2022, and that was just the beginning.

Not only did Murano draw every single storyboard, but he also did so at a very high level of detail. The director stated he doesn’t actually like doing so because it feels like he’s restricting the animators with the boards, but that it had an upside in a case like this where conveying details to the whole team is important.

Even while the strategy was demanding, it clearly worked. From the outset, it is clear how thoroughly researched and expansive Yuki’s world is. A morning routine full of new details, such as an alarm clock that vibrates to wake her up, or flashbacks to a school for the deaf that isn’t shown in the manga but has mirrors in the ceiling for the students who can’t hear people approaching from behind, have helped hearing-impaired viewers recognize a life similar to their own.

Similar to how the manga’s visual portrayal of deafness did, these elements often go beyond a simple nod to reality and become powerful artistic decisions in and of themselves. Instead than depending only on special effects to create an immersive experience, a layer of live-action film may sometimes scroll when the soon-to-be couple meets on a train. This is done to create a realistic feel that even deaf viewers can connect to. Sometimes, it’s just the sound itself. Glass harps are employed in a stunning soundtrack that Murano created after hearing from deaf individuals that they heard things muted as if they were underwater and thinking Yuki would be so used to it that she could find it curiously relaxing. As implied by the protagonist’s name, the snow falling has an equally powerful effect. You may have already noticed how it pleasantly falls the moment she becomes more aware of her feelings for Itsuomi, how it follows them as their relationship develops, and even how it becomes more agitated in scenes where a more fiery character like Emma also pins for Itsuomi’s affection, even if the director (and the text itself) hadn’t mentioned that it’s a metaphor for the love accumulating in Yuki’s world.

Murano discussed how the success of the anime was largely due to the many unique contributions in one of his frequent posts discussing the development process. Though he began by discussing the meticulous process of understanding the source material with the authors’ assistance—leaving post-it notes for any clarification he needed—this was by no means a critique of the original work, as he collaborated with both of them and Yonaiyama to organically expand the manga beyond its bounds in a way he couldn’t have accomplished alone.

He said there that a large portion of this unique material consists of the introduction of fresh imagery that is more appropriate for the anime and the message he was trying to get across. The opening scene of the second episode, which shows Yuki looking wistfully at two birds who are flying freely, is as clear a picture of her worldview as can be found in a daily image. Similar work was done with the trails in the sky in the first episode; they served as a repeating pattern and a classic example of inspiring imagery, directly connecting to her crush’s passion for travel. Another pair of birds, one in the light and the other in the shade, symbolizes Yuki’s two romantic interests starting to compete with this first episode—not that there’s any actual rivalry, as Yuki is instantly drawn to the light-colored bird. Murano used dichotomies as his episode’s central theme: light and dark, respectively, between Itsuomi’s radiant presence and Oushi, her childhood companion, and passionate love and more disillusioned desire.

Even though the whole series addresses this topic gradually, the second episode does a superb job of setting it up. Oushi’s excessively guarded demeanor, concealed under a harsh demeanor, was certain to fail when dealing with Yuki. Not only do his awkward emotions not come across, but they also essentially conflict with the goals that the artwork suggests. Although she has experienced some pain in the past, it hasn’t stopped her from daydreaming of living a colorful life, which she has been gradually pursuing. Oushi uses the same pattern they had created for Itsuomi’s way of life and Yuki’s nightmares to suggest that Yuki and other vulnerable people would be better off remaining where they are secure. He does this by placing himself under the shadow of a bridge and showing traces rising in the sky. The latter, on the other hand, gives brightness, reflecting in her eyes the way the clearest sky of her childhood did.

Another interaction with Oushi strengthens Yuki’s position when he begins aggressively chasing Itsuomi in the next episode. She runs to Itsuomi as the traffic lights turn green since it’s he who motivates her to push forward, despite her childhood friend’s dire cautions about coming out at night being followed by warnings and red lights. The most remarkable thing about this exchange, however, is how much of it is communicated via expressive sign language. You can only imagine how difficult it was to depict that in anime form, given that drawing that required depending on all the previously discussed instructions and the format’s natural brevity of actions. Drawing that was already difficult for the original manga. Alternatively, you don’t have to picture it since Murano has said very frankly that filming this for a TV program was an enormous headache in the ass.

It’s understandable that most people instantly think of Koe no Katachi when you mention sign language in anime. When it comes to depicting the concept, its anime version also did a good job. They worked along with Sign Language Island, the Tokyo Federation of the Deaf, and the Japanese Federation of the Deaf. To provide a more relatable reference for each character using sign language, there was a supervisor, many coordinators, and multiple sign language models. Naturally, the producers did the same, making several hand expression sheets and edits and emphasizing the importance of nonverbal communication. The outcomes of everything say it all, both in terms of the quality of the final product and the personal effects. Tamaki Kabasawa was only 16 years old when she volunteered to be Shouko’s sign language model. Although she didn’t feel like she could relate to the character at the time, Tamaki now views the work as the one that kept her alive since it let her realize that she had joined a similar social group.

Stories like Kabasawa’s grow more likely to occur when meticulous portrayals are used, but although Yubisaki has shown to have the proper intentions, what about its production muscle? If the nation’s most skilled group of character animators can masterfully capture a topic in a film, that’s one thing, but what might a less esteemed company do on television?

It turns out that they are also really good at what they do. Even though Ajia-dou is a less well-known brand, they have a well-documented history and unique animation culture. The principal characters from timeless masterpieces like Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou continue to be the company’s most dependable veterans, taking on the most difficult tasks for each production. Some of them, like Masayuki Sekine, who continues to be their shot composition expert and also plays that function in Yubisaki, have access to the same abilities that provided YKK and other artists with an unparalleled feeling of immersion. The other seasoned professionals have gained experience by taking on a variety of challenging tasks, which helped them when they were presented with a new task for this series: serving as the only sign language animators for the whole production.

Although Yoshiaki Yanagida, Masaya Fujimori, and Yuki Miyamoto, the three experts, did get some assistance in completing those scenes, the animation patterns were all their own creation. beyond all, Yonaiyama assisted Murano in selecting the indications that were most crucial to highlight since, even with a project that was obviously going beyond and beyond TV anime conventions, they still had to consider the production economics. Once chosen, Yonaiyama recorded herself enacting them, and those experts in sign language would start the animation process, frequently taking on every scene that was pertinent for several episodes in a row—all the while managing some of the most difficult standard shots in the entire series. Their work was reviewed once during the rough animation phase and again after it had been polished and painted. Beyond that, as was already said, Murano had to manually alter the time if needed since he was primarily responsible for the editing. Creating animation requires a lot of effort in general, and considerably more so when approached carefully like this.

The third episode had problematic situations like Oushi and Yuki’s signed disagreement, but it was also the first entirely outsourced episode, which is why the director himself felt it was appropriate to discuss this procedure at the same time. We have spoken extensively about this practice, both in terms of its components and the ways in which it exposes teams to conflict and inconsistencies. While excessive outsourcing might be frightening (particularly given the status of the anime business these days), recent successes such as Dungeon Meshi have also opened our eyes to the possibility of using it when paired with reliable assistants who have a close working relationship with the core crew. Though Yubisaki hasn’t had many well-known partners (though they do have a fan favorite), their busy schedule has enabled them to avoid the typical pitfalls by using an alternative tactic, such as maintaining crucial jobs inside the core team and limiting the amount of outsourcing. Even if up to five episodes were subcontracted in this way, somewhat reducing the overall burden, some elements, including as all of the sign language animation and Murano’s personal inspections, were never taken off the premises. The show’s polish varies somewhat as a consequence, but it always maintains a lovely threshold and never jeopardizes these delicate elements, which are the series’ central focus.

Another aspect that benefited from the project’s relatively ampler schedule was the occasional deployment of film scoring, allowing Murano to collaborate with composer Yukari Hashimoto for important scenes like the confession in episode #06 and the moment of intimacy at the end of that same episode, as well as the final moments of the premiere.

The attention that emerges in all these methods and procedures as Yuki and Itsuomi’s partnership develops makes an essentially straightforward romance very endearing. Yonaiyama, the supervisor of sign language, stressed that people need to recognize sign language for what it is—a language. Of course, accuracy is crucial, but because sign language does not appear in the actual world as a collection of textbook movements and stances, it should not be portrayed that way. Murano was aware of the task at hand and made an effort to avoid portraying it in a clinical, sterile manner. Rather, he highlighted the human element by including flaws such as trembling fingers or slightly altering the signs to represent the actors’ feelings at the moment. He appears to have been happiest, even to this day, when deaf individuals tell him that they really caught their mode of expression.

Even while a first glance at Yubisaki’s work could reveal that many of his seasonal titles have better production standards and more character animation just by virtue of volume, it’s because of thoughtful considerations like these that I think it transcends to true character acting. It all comes together with a beauty you don’t often see in anime, along with all the previously described methods Murano employed to make the planet itself express emotional states and the distinctive aspects of Yuki’s universe. Its well-intentioned narrative is straightforward and not quite as eye-catching as other well-known works, but this also makes its obvious point more easily understood. It may not be very noisy, much like Yuki’s environment, but it has a brilliant inner beauty.

Quite frankly, we shouldn’t expect this kind of initiative to be readily repeated or followed up on—not even by its own team, who are cognizant of this reality. Rather than being a recurrent adaptation that would thoroughly adapt its events at whatever cost, Yubisaki was intended to be a solitary season that would respectfully capture the essence of the original work. With the original writers’ help, Murano made a special effort to reinterpret subsequent arcs and even depict unknown pasts in order to create a sense of closure within these 12 episodes. Anyone who has worked in the anime business long enough to know that they seldom have four to five years to adapt a television program, giving them plenty of leeway and a source that has already undergone extensive investigation. It’s exceptional to be able to rely on ajia-do, a studio full of dependable aces, to the extent that Yubisaki can. This kind of undertaking may not come up again for a time. However, what’s the deal? Again, you owe it to yourself to give it a go since we did manage to acquire Yubisaki.

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