Take the lead! wasn’t initially intended to be Studio Troyca’s tenth anniversary project, but after years of production, it grew to innately represent the studio’s current strengths: a stunning blend of punchy, confident delivery with grounded, realistic content.
You would think that a thorough preparation process would be necessary for an animation studio’s anniversary project to accurately capture their distinct culture. The goal is always to create something that is entertaining on its own, so if you keep that in mind from the beginning, you can draft a narrative in familiar territory, design the animation in accordance with your team’s stylistic guidelines, and even highlight the themes you believe best represent the workplace. That might be the most effective strategy to take on that task. However, in the actual world, projects may begin and end without such a defined objective. However, if one is allowed to simmer for a while, particularly during a phase when the studio is still getting its bearings, all those elements can still organically merge into an impromptu joyous title. And that’s precisely the case with Overtake!, which, despite having that burden thrust upon it later in the process, is the greatest method studio Troyca could have developed to commemorate its tenth anniversary.
Troyca was established in 2013, drawing its name from the events leading up to its establishment. The foundation of this new studio consisted of three individuals, all of whom had connections to their former AIC employment. Specifically, it was director Ei Aoki, photography director Tomonori Kato, and animation producer Yoshiyuki Nagano, who had sufficient expertise in their respective capacities to rally a cadre of former AIC regulars right away. Their former residence had a rich history but was not particularly opulent; it was similar to an ur-anime studio in that it contained a wealth of talent that was subject to the whims of producers who were occasionally willing to take risks and work on low-brow projects. AIC was a financial and management magnet, very much in the style of the anime business, and this was very evident at the time. Members of AIC Spirits had formed Production IMS three months prior to Troyca’s founding, and five years later, the studio was closing down in person to the applause of some of the persons they were purportedly in debt to. Since Troyca has one cursed bloodline to bear, they should consider themselves fortunate to be able to celebrate their tenth anniversary.
Troyca promptly shown that they weren’t frightened of any specific genre, befitting their anything-goes upbringing, though they did have a penchant for their lead director’s ostentatious delivery. Aoki achieved the versatility his previous studio had required of him, but he didn’t do so by keeping quiet about it; on the contrary, he discovered a means to speak loudly alongside each piece rather than over it. To put it another way, it indicates that he has a gift for incorporating his opulent, frequently Hollywood-style characteristics into a variety of works. His concept of immersion is physically attaching the audience to a character in absurd ways that no one else could have thought of. This practice has been adopted by his students, and now that he is able to oversee a studio, it has become commonplace. His taste for shot composition is very theatrical; reflections are frequently used to create sharp contrasts. We won’t necessarily locate the root of those particular oddities if we look back at the works that inspired him, as described in the Febri column that poses that question to well-known creators, but rather works that operate at a comparably ridiculous volume. His affection for Gunhed in particular encapsulates the qualities of a director who frequently tries too hard to do something original and ends up veering back into the lovely and sincere realm.
The initial pieces produced by the studio clearly display those inclinations. Aldnoah Zero, Troyca’s first title, was an adequately dramatic original mecha anime that prioritized the story’s turns and turns over other elements. Its inherent metafictional framework allowed its spiritual descendant, Re:Creators, to take even wilder turns. Take it or leave it, these are really simple ways to channel Aoki’s direct charm. Given their stylistic alignment, it becomes obvious that loud direction and a loud script would complement one another. At that point, you’re also hoping for equally forceful animation so that everything feels equally energizing; fortunately, this is the case with the work of numerous character animators associated with AIC who also happened to join this team.
However, new kinds of synergistic excellence are possible when understated writing is combined with that strong school of direction. For instance, storyboards can be so direct and legible on their own that the texts can emphasize their stern elegance without losing meaning. Additionally, grounded situations can be given a great deal of gravitas, which is highly helpful from the perspective of character drama. After all, when someone is faced with a problem, they will likely view it through personal lenses that may greatly magnify it rather than from a level-headed, objective point of view. And that’s exactly the path the studio has taken, pushed more and more in that direction by a particular series that has kept them busier than any other. We have been in the Idolish7 period for the better part of the studio’s existence.
For those of you who enjoy Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne as much as I do, i7 is an idol series that revolves around a group of seven eccentric males and has original artwork by shoujo manga legend Arina Tanemura. Even if you should never take josei-muke properties for granted, the game’s enormous success did result in a high-profile adaptation project in which all involved felt sincere passion. That goes beyond television, though, as the show has produced numerous music videos from top-tier anime studios; I have to give a shout-out to their final match between idol group TRIGGER and their namesake studio, even though it’s not necessarily the best one. After all, everyone laughed about it when it became apparent that all of the major studios were contenders.
Though Troyca may not be as well-known as some of those music video destinations, fans have been treated to a degree of dedication to the TV anime adaptation that is becoming increasingly uncommon. I specifically use that phrase to highlight the team’s investment, which is undoubtedly tougher to quantify, as well as the enormous amount of labor that a relatively small studio has devoted to this one property.
On paper, three TV series might not seem like much, but things add up quickly. Some of those shows run over several seasons, and each of those has a history of starting off longer than usual—instead of the 12–13 episodes that make up a typical season, i7 will frequently aim for 17 in order to reach their own magical number. With a few more pieces of extra content thrown in, such as an original YouTube series that provides further background on specific relationships and events, you have a late-night show that has already run for over 70 episodes and probably has a lot more in store. A rare at a time when titles are released as rapidly as possible, and even more so when you take into account that the team’s delivery has only become better with time.
The first season of Idolish7, which aired back in 2018, laid the groundwork for future developments with its strong ensemble cast dynamics and outstanding performance moments. Since Aoki directed both Kara no Kyoukai and Fate/Zero at ufotable, Troyca has developed a strong relationship with them. In fact, some of the best parts of the first series can be attributed to this friendship. A multiplicity of ufotable animators were allowed to play it looser than normal in Episode #07, mirroring the intensity of the in-house aces, which made the episode even more emotive. The best example of the in-house skill, proudly portrayed by Ryuichi Makino, can be seen in episode #15; don’t look any further. Makino’s ability to generate true-to-life expressions that give his animation an edge, even when working with designs that aren’t very realistic, is a testament to the intensity of the team. His animation and drawings may effectively convey an emotional outburst in a scenario when the deceptive and unpleasant aspects of the entertainment industry are on full show.
The extravagant sequence that opens up the S2 finale with a staged twist is another example of that type of character animation the studio excels at. This one was animated by one Masako Matsumoto, who will be very relevant to a certain title.
However, it was the subsequent entries in the franchise—the TV sequel Second Beat! and the YouTube series Vibrato—that marked the turning point. They immediately have a noticeable change that puts them considerably closer to Aoki’s powerful style. The majority of storyboards have a straightforward style that embodies interiority, but lighting is much more intricate and also ties back into that kind of easily understood expression. Since the contrast between light and shadow is the most obvious, many shot compositions begin to take advantage of this technique. It should come as no surprise that Aoki changed from just being credited as the show’s supervisor to taking a more active part in its creation—in Vibrato’s case, opening it up as the storyboarder and series director.
Aoki has persisted in contributing frequently when he has had the opportunity, but more than all of the storyboards he has created himself, it appears that the other members of the team have just begun paying closer attention to his instructions. It should come as no surprise that he is regarded as a mentor by all the younger directors, but it is noteworthy that even the seasoned filmmakers adopted this viewpoint. This also applies to Makoto Bessho, the director of the i7 series, who has grown to accept Aoki’s dramatic framing techniques as his own. This change not only resulted in more oddball, endearing storyboarding ideas but also in a boost of confidence in the delivery, which in turn caused the phenomenon we previously discussed: when your directing is so effortlessly legible, the screenplay can afford to believe more in itself and the audience.
The writing would need to develop with the direction in order for this adjustment to be beneficial. And happily, that’s precisely what took place. Even though she had only been involved in the writing of a few short anime series, series composer Ayumi Sekine still remembers Aldnoah with nostalgia for all the chances it allowed her to explore new creative directions. Sekine had known the team since the end of the AIC days. With i7, we’ve been able to witness her development alongside Troyca’s team as well as the original narrative; from idealistic beginnings with a little too much exposition to a far more realistic and true-to-life industrial drama.
The development of this franchise shows the direction her writing was going, even though the series’ colorful cast makes you constantly want some explicit reactions from the actors. She has been perfecting the art of implications and tasteful omissions in a field such as commercial TV anime, where scripts grip the viewer’s hand and prevent them from thinking. And she’s done it with a group of people who support her in that and push it even beyond with their confident delivery.
Why discuss a separate series while giving Idolish7 this much attention? In all honesty, without all of this background information, it feels difficult to comprehend why Overtake! performs as well as it does. I mentioned before that i7 has been a major burden for the studio, but I don’t think that statement really conveys the fact that this series accounted for more than 40% of Troyca’s productions up until this point in the season. Restricting it to the ones produced since they started manufacturing the i7 makes it two thirds of their overall production. And that’s exactly how long Overtake!’s production has been going; it involves a lot of these people we’ve been calling out.
Although the series was never intended to be the studio’s tenth anniversary celebration title, it persisted long enough to unintentionally earn that distinction. Additionally, it picked up all the brewing tendencies from the franchise that had kept them busy for the longest period of time throughout the process. The same way that some aspects of the series are incomprehensible without knowledge of Aoki’s theatrical staging and the ex-AIC animators’ energy, other parts of it become incomprehensible without knowledge of the grounded, naturalistic excellence that they have been honing with a particular set of male idols.
But has Overtake! truly been around for this long? It’s likely been even longer given that their initial location scouting excursions and interviews took place in 2017. In addition to the staff interviews that often follow the premieres of new episodes and a few special events, Troyca has given Overtake! access to an opulent promotional cycle. Aoki and voice actor Anan Furuya streamed on the studio’s official account every week during the show’s broadcast run to discuss the latest episode. Guests, such as Troyca producer Nagano, were frequently included in the streams. In order to learn more about the subject matter they wanted to depict, the studio has also edited and uploaded 17 location hunting trips, most of which were to actual racing events and facilities that have been incorporated into the series. The trips range from 2017 to 2023, though both of those extremes are exceptions.
Thanks to all of this, we now know that at the beginning, they didn’t even have a plot or cast of characters. All they knew was that they intended to develop something involving F4 from conversations they had with people from Kadokawa, who would later be engaged in the production. They saw it as the ideal setting for character drama since it is a field that sits between professional efforts and amateur racing, with huge differences between teams depending on where they are on that spectrum. I’ve spent enough time in professional sports contexts that I can attest to the reality of their portrayal of this racing scene, but I can’t comment to the authenticity of how they portrayed it specifically. I can, however, identify with the tensions they depict throughout the show. And believe me when I say that those could definitely serve as the core of a television program.
The team started assembling a very familiar crew as they worked to decide exactly which tale they wanted to tell. Looking back, it’s hard to miss the fact that this team is made up entirely of the same individuals who headed Aldnoah’s ship. They did eventually realize that, coming full circle when the project’s purpose was made apparent, but they had already stated that this wasn’t planned when they first revealed the initiative.
After all, milestones in the more free-flowing careers of those who created them, such as studio and title anniversaries, are somewhat arbitrary. While it is meaningful to commemorate the achievements of a single creative team, we have already discussed how much of what is now known as “Troyca” is due to an earlier AIC production line (Spirits). As she played a similar role in Overtake!, renowned mangaka Takako Shimura’s original designs can be seen as another homage to Aldnoah. However, none of this would have occurred had Aoki not supervised an adaptation of her Wandering Son work a few years prior. Would Nijisanji’s Kanae sing the opening theme for this new series if she hadn’t actually entered their streams through the least family-friendly people possible? Yes, that particular portion is coincidental, but it’s also quite humorous. More than anything else, the reason so many well-known faces were drawn to Overtake! is because, barring unusual circumstances—like a cartoon bag with a prominent money sign—creators will naturally gravitate toward people and teams they’ve naturally had favorable experiences with in the past.
Thus, this group of friends gradually but steadily constructed something that complemented the surrounding advantages they had come to recognize. Although the initial intention may not have been to celebrate the studio and what this particular combination of skill sets could achieve, they were able to gracefully pivot and fully commit to this idea once it became apparent that this was the direction they were heading toward and because of the ample time the project has been granted: a confident character drama set in the world of semi-professional racing, with striking and clear storyboarding enabling naturalistic scriptwriting.
In this way, the audience is already given a lot of information in the first few of episodes. We sense a complex relationship that the two are still learning how to navigate in each humorous exchange between photographer Kouya Madoka and Saeko, a superior in the same field. Saeko is obviously aware of their distance from him and is still fond of him, but they are not in the same place as they once were, whatever that may have been. Before we witness overt signs of Kouya’s potential trauma at work, we see glimmers of conduct that, while to an observer without background knowledge may appear indolent, obviously allude to something heavier resting on his shoulders. Particularly, only inactive items stay in his camera roll, he only uses assignments requiring him to take pictures of people as an excuse to avoid work, and he already provokes a response just by aiming his camera at someone. The show won’t ask the audience to clarify those points, and to be honest, it doesn’t currently have a good cause to reveal Kouya’s psychological makeup. However, those suppressed emotions are already present and guide every move he takes.
Co-protagonist Haruka Asahina, a high school student who races for the small F4 team Komaki Motors, represents the opposing side of the story. The team was drawn to this concept because of the stark differences between teams in this field, where a big brand with a lot of employees devoted to various disciplines may compete against important amateurs, so you can bet that this is a key area of concentration. Although there is some exposition regarding those facts (the program doesn’t seem to be allergic to explanation; it just restricts it to details that would normally be communicated), what makes this aspect so palatable is the show’s careful portrayal of the everyday realities. And that holds the attention of Kouya as well as the audience, as he rapidly becomes engrossed in the difficult struggle facing Komaki Motors and Haruka. He even finds himself secretly taking a picture of Haruka sobbing in frustration after one of his tires abruptly stops his race.
It’s important to note that character designer Masako Matsumoto created this exquisite scene, which serves as one of the episode’s highlights. Matsumoto is a very active character animator with a penchant for powerful outbursts, much like the aforementioned Makino and other star animators near Troyca, despite having a different point of concentration due to her position. While there isn’t quite as much movement in any of the Overtake! episodes as there was in the first, Matsumoto’s work as primary animation director is among the best this year; it’s on par with what Reiko Nagasawa is doing with Frieren. Strict consistency is not something the show worries about because Matsumoto is constantly there to preserve the caliber of the drawings but also conscious of the necessity to change styles occasionally to best communicate particular moods. It’s evident that she has figured out how to make the most of not just her own but also other people’s abilities as an animator who has essentially exclusively collaborated with this group of people during the ten years this project honors.
Speaking of synergies, Makoto Kato, of Bloom Into You fame—possibly Aoki’s best protégé to date—makes her debut in the second episode. In addition to further establishing the main characters’ circumstances—Haruka’s father was a racer who was killed in an accident, for example—this episode is noteworthy for the way the work’s style transcends the series director’s direct sphere of influence. Frequently, a project manager will have excellent ideas but be unable to bring everyone to the same understanding. So how did Aoki manage to keep everything running so smoothly? The crew plays a big part in it; most of the squad is made up of longtime friends who are aware of his preferences, if not directly motivated by them. Individuals such as Kato are faced with the task of presenting information to the spectator from a relatively similar position, thus it’s inevitable that their work will be similarly readable even with room for personal peculiarities. However, it’s really lovely when Kato is in command!
Kouya is still deeply touched, and he commits himself to helping Komaki Motors. He quickly reminds Haruka that money rules the world before dragging her outside to plead for sponsorships so they may fight on a level playing field. The fact that Kouya’s first instinct is to ask all the local stores for help—especially those that sell food, as will become more evident later in the show—is very telling from a thematic perspective, even though it’s ultimately the marketability of a crying young man trying his hardest that (accidentally) grants them funds. With a little more support, Haruka can start vying for higher spots, revealing that his desire to return to the podium and his rivalry with Belsorriso’s second driver—a team large enough for their star to constantly be trailed by fans—are just as significant motivators as his father’s death.
The team’s fundamental principle was to only introduce characters if they had a clear role to perform, so it’s interesting to see more pieces being added to the board gradually. Even though the arcs are different in scope, Overtake! is the kind of show where, contrary to Haruka’s underdog story, even the flashy star of a rival team has more depth than first meets the eye. Unfortunately for him at times, though, his position is used to explore the particular pressure that only someone in a genuine position of privilege and expected success can face.
Despite the age and personality differences between them, Kouya’s excitement softens Haruka’s hard façade. The fourth episode is particularly intriguing because it is bookended by images that symbolizes that particular process; I have already written more extensively about it here. In general, repetition is the name of the game here because it’s employed for hilarious effect in another superb Makino-animated sequence, as well as for match cutting in its beautiful explanation. This one is an interesting exception to the general rule of a team consisting solely of well-known faces because it is helmed and directed by Shotaro Kitamura, who is, as you may have surmised from this episode’s abrupt tendency toward flat shading, the most recent creation of Mamoru Hatakeyama’s captivating work in Kaguya-sama. The major concepts are still relevant to Aoki and the other members of the main cast, even with the style change, thus the episode seems comfortable. And in what other way could it be? The majority of screenplays were written by Sekine alone; the few that weren’t were probably co-written by Aoki. There is no chance for the series to lose its plot because, in addition to his work as series director, he is involved in half of the episodes personally.
The story continues to be told with the same degree of naturalness. This entails allowing for character fallibility while also ensuring that characters only disclose sensitive information to others in situations where there is a connection of trust and appropriate circumstances. Particularly following a track incident that prompts Kouya to focus his camera on a victim once more (although for a Belsorriso racer who is not seriously hurt), we’ve been led to assume that his problems are related to the backlash he had for capturing a picture of a terrified youngster during the historic 2011 earthquake. Even Saeko, who at this point in the show we have known to be Kouya’s ex-wife, has long held the belief that this was the main issue. In what is arguably the show’s greatest episode, Haruka discovers that isn’t the case and assists Kouya in making the first real progress.
It was planned for Aoki to direct and storyboard Episode #09 since it was significant enough, but it was also released too late for the series director to continue making that kind of commitment to a single episode. His student Kato came to the rescue, and boy did he ever, even though he also had a show to direct shortly. Though Kouya fled his house, Haruka was able to locate him and follow him to the rural spot where he was sleeping. Despite the fact that he seems happy and that they are physically spending time together, Kato’s storyboards show that Haruka is cut off from Kouya’s world. They’re in a more even field by the end, with Haruka’s attempts to physically reach out connecting, but it’s only when he keeps trying to place himself on the same level and begs his companion to speak that we notice something changing. Asking a buddy to confide in you has so much more meaning in a program that has been purposefully minimal with explanatory dialogue, and Kato effectively conveys that significance through her visuals. Specifically, #09 is a fantastic episode that uses animation to perfectly capture every little reaction from Kato and the rest of the squad.
As Haruka was starting to surmise, Kouya’s inability to take portraits of people was caused more by the weight on his mind that preceded the public disdain than by the criticism he got. Twelve years before the episode, he was stationed in the same location where he is currently hiding, working on a feature about the fishing town’s way of life. The people were sympathetic to him because of his genuine inquiry, yet everything fell apart. An historic seaside town just before the tsunami struck. For the scariest scenario, the crew decided to use the actual images from NHK’s in-the-moment reporting on the earthquake, and Makino was tasked with animating it. A few times, he has done it so pointedly as when he amplifies the realistic horror as people watch the sea swallow their town and as they realize that some people—like the child Kouya ends up taking a photo of—cannot be saved. Previously, I described him as an animator who can evoke true-to-life expressions to give an edge to the animation.
Kouya’s initial reaction is to run into danger, necessitating the locals to stop him, even though everyone else is paralyzed with terror. We have proof that he stayed on to assist them in rebuilding their homes and to help those in need, but all of that is irrelevant to the fictitious stories we create in order to find scapegoats for circumstances in which there isn’t a true victim. Even some of the locals who ought to know better portray Kouya as a silly monster once that one picture makes its rounds in the media. However, that’s not the real reason why his finger stops hovering over the shutter button of the camera. It’s the image in his mind of a little child’s defenseless eyes looking at him and questioning why he was unable to save her.
Not every trauma can be swiftly overcome, even if one youngster convinces others who have been duped by the same story to wake up. However, knowing that there are still people in the area who value your old feature images can be as enlightening as the support you receive. While Kouya’s pain doesn’t instantly disappear, he is finally making a conscious effort to heal. Once more, in a program that is so reticent to really express its characters’ emotions, the times when they do open up have a distinct effect.
About half of the show’s thematic objectives have been reached by this point, which makes sense given that one of its co-protagonists has essentially finished his character arc. Because Sekine can create mechanically intricate, multithreaded storylines, which is part of her greatness as a writer, all of this has occurred while furthering other stories. An essential illustration of this relationship is the fact that Kouya’s sponsors have abandoned them due to concern about a potential PR disaster involving his reputation, and in turn, Belsorisso has attempted to recruit Haruka to take the position of their injured star driver. Underdog sports narratives typically feature a rejection of the siren song of a more fanatical rival, but Overtake!’s meticulousness and realistic approach make even the classics feel incredibly fascinating.
The show can also punt the genre cliches away when it wishes to.
The equally incredible power of the local community has always been the show’s response to the overwhelming power of money. Overtake! does a great job of communicating a lot of socioeconomic concepts through food, even though they’re not exactly creating the cinematic language of socioeconomics. In keeping with their methodology, they’re also highly legible. When Kouya first starts his search for sponsors, he visits restaurants; although he doesn’t receive the sweet money, the locals do demonstrate their support by giving him a ton of their own goods. The president of Komaki Motors personifies the company’s laid-back vibe as he munches on takoyaki, and the crew fully commits to a local festival where the well-meaning senior folks share their food—perhaps too much, too intensely.
Their eating habits illustrate the difference between Haruka’s reality and Belsorisso’s offer, and Kouya’s connection to the local community through food provides him with a sense of comfort even when he is on his escapism trip. Local businesses step up with their lesser donations to support a team that they feel is close to their lives as the sponsorship issue resurfaces toward the finale. Consequently, instead of a single expensive sponsor logo, Komaki Motors’ vehicle is covered with several small names, many of which are the names of the food providers in this neighborhood. They are the ones who have leveled the playing field sufficiently for us to witness the moment we have all been waiting for: Haruka’s thrilling victory and Kouya’s chance to snap a picture of him on the podium.
Even though it’s only one victory in a small motorsports category overall, the journey these individuals took to get there has meant the world to them. It is certainly worth the entrance fee to witness the way this has been communicated, with a punchy yet austere approach that encapsulates this team.