The one to watch right now is Mari Okada, who shines both as a female scriptwriter and an anime director. While she’s primarily been active as a scriptwriter, she has recently taken on the role of director as well. In 2008, she contributed to the popular anime series Toradora!, and in 2011, she crafted the original story for the explosively popular series Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day, catapulting her to fame.
Mari Okada’s writing has an uncanny ability to pierce the depths of the heart with emotional stories, making each anime uniquely captivating. From slice-of-life to fantasy, she unfolds her distinct world in various genres. Lately, she’s also been active as a director for anime films.
Now seems like a perfect time to reflect on the anime series and movies Mari Okada has scripted or directed over the years. Let’s take a look back at the Best Anime Written by Mari Okada.
Update: Having just completed and released Maboroshi (Alice to Therese no Maboroshi Koujou) as a director in 2023, it’s exciting to hear that a new anime film, Fureru (ふれる。), scripted by Mari Okada, will be available in the autumn of 2024. What’s more, it’s a new movie by Super Peace Busters, in collaboration with director Tatsuyuki Nagai and character designer Masayoshi Tanaka. Following Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day (2011), The Anthem of the Heart (2015), and Her Blue Sky (2019), it will be interesting to see what the fourth work by Super Peace Busters will be like.
Who is Mari Okada?
Mari Okada (岡田麿里) embarked on her anime scriptwriting journey with DT Eightron in 1998. By 2011, she had penned the script for several original anime series, including the popular Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day, Hanasaku Iroha, and Fractale. Hailing from Chichibu City in Saitama Prefecture, she has crafted some masterpieces set in this locale, sometimes referred to as the Chichibu Trilogy.
Okada is also known as a key member of the anime production team Super Peace Busters, collaborating with top-tier staff like Tatsuyuki Nagai and Masayoshi Tanaka. In 2018, she debuted as a director with the anime movie Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms, earning the New Wave Award in Creator Category at the Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival. Moreover, in 2023, her second directorial work, Alice to Therese no Maboroshi Koujou (Alice and Therese’s Illusory Factory), was released, quickly garnering high praise.
7. Her Blue Sky (Screenplay)
Her Blue Sky (空の青さを知る人よ) is a poignant film penned by the esteemed Mari Okada and released in 2019. Mari Okada took on the scriptwriting for Her Blue Sky as a member of Super Peace Busters, led by director Tatsuyuki Nagai. This film is a part of the Chichibu Trilogy. Produced by CloverWorks, the movie exemplifies Okada’s signature touch of blending raw emotion with intricate character development. With its rich animation and evocative musical score, Her Blue Sky underscores the complexities of love, time, and the human heart, establishing itself as a significant entry in Okada’s extensive oeuvre.
Set in a quiet town nestled against a backdrop of mountains, the story revolves around high schooler Aoi Aioi, whose life was forever altered by a family tragedy, leading her older sister Akane to abandon her dreams and look after Aoi. Years later, an unexpected reunion occurs when Aoi encounters Shinnosuke, Akane’s ex-boyfriend and a struggling guitarist. What’s more intriguing is his unchanged youthful appearance from 13 years ago. As Aoi gets closer to Shinnosuke, she confronts not just the enigma surrounding his existence but also her feelings, while navigating the interplay of past and present, dreams and reality. The tale gracefully captures the intricacies of unresolved sentiments, second chances, and the timeless nature of genuine connections.
Runtime: 108 min
6. Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms (Director/Screenplay)
Heralding a new era of storytelling, Mari Okada debuted as a director with her first anime movie Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms (さよならの朝に約束の花をかざろう), released in 2018. Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms is a work infused with 100% of Mari Okada’s essence. This breathtaking fantasy drama, produced by P.A.Works, underscores Okada’s signature touch in delving deep into human emotions and intricate relationships. With its visually captivating animation and emotionally charged narrative, the film stands as a testament to Okada’s versatility and depth as a storyteller.
In a world where the lorph people, known for their longevity and youthful appearance, live in isolation, Maquia, a lonely lorph girl, witnesses her homeland being invaded. In the aftermath, she discovers a lone baby, Erial, amidst the chaos and decides to raise him. The narrative gracefully weaves the journey of Maquia as a mother, depicting the ephemeral nature of time and the challenges of an unchanging appearance amidst a constantly evolving world. Their bond and the heart-wrenching reality of outliving those you love provide a touching exploration of motherhood, love, and the inevitable passage of time.
Runtime: 115 min
Studio: P.A. Works
5. The Anthem of the Heart (Screenplay)
Directed by Tatsuyuki Nagai and written by Mari Okada, The Anthem of the Heart (心が叫びたがってるんだ。) is one of the flagship titles of the Super Peace Busters team. Many fans consider it one of the best anime films of the 2010s. Mari Okada’s narrative prowess shines brightly in The Anthem of the Heart, a 2015 film produced by A-1 Pictures. With Tatsuyuki Nagai at the helm as the director and Masayoshi Tanaka providing the character designs, the collaboration successfully encapsulates Okada’s deep understanding of human psyche and relationships.
Jun Naruse, a once chatty girl, carries the weight of a family breakup she believes she caused. This trauma prompts an egg fairy to appear in her dream, sealing away her ability to speak to prevent her words from hurting others. Now a high school student, Jun struggles with her imposed silence until she is chosen to be on the community outreach council alongside three other students. Tasked with producing a musical for their community, Jun discovers the liberating world of song. As they work together, secrets unravel, and Jun learns the value of self-expression, understanding, and the healing power of the heart’s anthem.
Runtime: 119 min
Studio: A-1 Pictures
4. Nagi-Asu: A Lull in the Sea (Screenplay)
While it might not be extremely well-known worldwide, Nagi-Asu: A Lull in the Sea (凪のあすから) is an exceptionally well-crafted anime series. The high quality is undeniably anchored by Mari Okada’s scriptwriting. Indeed, it presents a unique world that other creators simply couldn’t envision. It was made by P.A. Works and aired with 26 episodes in 2013-2014, captures the essence of Mari Okada’s storytelling prowess. It’s an intricately woven tale that seamlessly combines romance, fantasy, and drama. The series, with its breathtaking animation depicting both the underwater world and the surface, offers a fresh take on love, prejudice, and the challenges of coming-of-age.
In a world divided between those who live beneath the waves and those on land, an inevitable change forces a group of sea-dwelling teenagers to attend school on the surface. Hikari Sakishima, Manaka Mukaido, and their friends confront not only the challenges of integrating with surface people but also a complex web of evolving relationships and emotional turmoil. As love triangles form, friendships are tested, and the age-old tension between sea and land dwellers grows, the young group must also face the mysteries of their world, including a looming calamity that threatens their way of life. Through heartbreak, love, and loss, the series showcases the pains and beauty of adolescence amidst a changing world.
Studio: P.A. Works
3. Toradora! (Screenplay)
Honestly, from here on out, I’d like to say that all of these are the best anime scripted by Mari Okada. However, with reluctance, I’ll assign rankings. Coming in at third place is Toradora! (とらドラ!), which is an anime directed by Tatsuyuki Nagai, with series composition and screenplay by Mari Okada. Evoking a roller coaster of emotions, Toradora! stands as a testament to Mari Okada’s talent for capturing the highs and lows of adolescence. Produced by J.C.Staff and aired in 2008-2009, this romantic comedy series intricately weaves humor with deep emotional moments, making it a memorable classic. This emotional rom-com anime series is based on Yuyuko Takemiya’s light novel that consists of 13 volumes published between 2006 and 2010.
Ryuji Takasu, burdened with an intimidating face and kind heart, forms an unlikely pact with Taiga Aisaka, a fierce yet diminutive girl. Both having crushes on each other’s best friends, they decide to help one another get closer to their respective crushes. However, as they spend time together, the layers of their own feelings and those of the people around them begin to unravel. Through misunderstandings, heartbreaks, and genuine moments, the series portrays how love can often be found in the most unexpected of places, revealing that the path to one’s true feelings isn’t always a straight line.
2. Alice to Therese no Maboroshi Koujou (Director/Screenplay)
Released in 2023, Alice to Therese no Maboroshi Koujou (アリスとテレスのまぼろし工場), translated as Alice and Therese’s Illusory Factory, stands as the second directorial anime movie of Mari Okada. It’s a piece brimming with potential, poised to be heralded as one of Okada’s best works for generations to come. Of course, the screenplay was crafted by Mari Okada herself. While her first directed work Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms embodies 100% of the Mari Okada touch, Alice to Therese no Maboroshi Koujou has a whopping 200% of the Mari Okada essence poured into it, as expressed by Mari Okada herself in an interview. The anime was produced by Mappa, which is currently riding a wave of immense popularity in the anime industry. Adding to its prominence, a novelized version of the story was published prior to the film’s release.
In the town of Mifuse, an emblematic steel mill experienced a disastrous explosion one night. As a consequence, time in the town ceased to advance, and its residents became trapped, unable to leave. In this world, a 14-year-old boy Masamune Kikuiri led a monotonous life. However, one day, his classmate Mutsumi Sagami invited him to venture into the site of the explosion at the steel mill. Inside, they encountered a wild, feral-like girl who seemed incapable of regular conversation. Mutsumi tasked Masamune with helping care for her. As Masamune continued his daily life with his classmates and the girl he named Itsumi, he faced increasing mysteries. His father, who had worked at the steel mill, suddenly stopped coming home one day, and Masamune witnessed classmates disappearing in a peculiar mist. Eventually, Masamune began to unravel clues about the world they were trapped in and about Itsumi.
Runtime: 111 min
1. Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day (Screenplay)
Certainly, Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day (あの日見た花の名前を僕達はまだ知らない。) is the best anime written by Mari Okada, which can be also rightfully hailed as one of the best anime of the 21st century. The narrative was inspired by Okada’s intrigue about the portrayal of a school-refusing protagonist, resulting in Anohana. Originally aired in 2011 with 11 episodes, it captured the hearts of not only dedicated anime fans but also reached a broader audience, evoking tears from many.
In 2013, a 99-minute film adaptation, which included some new scenes, was released as a compilation of the series. For Anohana, Okada specifically wished to collaborate with Tatsuyuki Nagai as the director and Masayoshi Tanaka for character design. The team, including these key figures, became collectively known as Super Peace Busters. This anime title marked the beginning of what is referred to as the Chichibu Trilogy, followed by The Anthem of the Heart in 2015 and Her Blue Sky in 2019. Although the stories are unconnected, they all share a common backdrop – Chichibu in Saitama Prefecture, which also happens to be Okada’s hometown.
Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day is a poignant tale of friendship, grief, and redemption. Centered in the town of Chichibu, it follows a group of childhood friends who have drifted apart following the tragic death of their dear friend, Menma. Jinta Yadomi, once an energetic leader, has become a recluse, avoiding school and isolating himself. However, his life takes an unexpected turn when Menma’s spirit appears before him, claiming she can’t move on to the afterlife until her wish is fulfilled.
However, she cannot remember what that wish is. To help Menma, Jinta begins reuniting with their old friends: Anaru, Poppo, Yukiatsu, and Tsuruko. As they come together, old wounds resurface, and unresolved feelings come to the fore. The story is a heart-wrenching journey of reconciliation and closure, showcasing the enduring bond of friendship and the complex emotions surrounding loss and moving on.
Studio: A-1 Pictures
You might be surprised to think, “Is this also a work scripted by Mari Okada?” The anime series and movies listed above are all highly rated and definitely worth watching. Mari Okada’s works might have a unique flair to them, but once you get hooked, you’re bound to become a passionate fan. Let’s continue to delve deeper into the world of anime.
I’ve also compiled anime from other renowned creators, so please check them out for reference.
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