After Expressing Distress Over Japanese Live-Action Series’ Disrespect Towards Source Material, ‘Sexy Tanaka-San’ Mangaka Found Dead From Suspected Suicide

Tanaka and Kurahashi strike a pose on Ashihara Hinako's cover art to Petit Comic (2024), Shogakukan
Tanaka and Kurahashi strike a pose on Ashihara Hinako's cover art to Petit Comic (2024), Shogakukan

In a tragic development, just days after revealing that her experience with the production team behind the live-action adaptation of her series Sexy Tanaka-San was nothing short of disastrous and emotionally tumultuous, mangaka Hinako Ashihara has been found dead of an apparent suicide.

Tanaka belly dancing in Sexy Tanaka-san Chapter 2.1 (2018), “Somebody’s Put a Spell On Me – Part 1” (2018), Shogakukan. Words and Art by Hinako Ashihara via digital issue.

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Per Japanese publication Sponichi Annex, (translated via Deep L) the 50-year old mangaka behind such series as Sand Chronicles and Bitter: Nakechau Koi Monogatari was first reported missing on January 28th before being found dead in Tochigi Prefecture the next day.

According to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, an alleged suicide note was found in Ashihara’s residence, its contents supposedly detailing her reasoning behind her death.

As such, while the contents of this note have yet to be detailed to the public, the police have announced that they are investigating the incident as a suicide.

belly dancing
Kyoko Tanaka belly dancing in Sexy Tanaka-san Chapter 1.2 “It’s Not Like I Want To Become Happy – Part 2” (2018), Shogakukan. Words and Art by Hinako Ashihara via digital issue.

However, while the exact reasons behind Ashihara’s death have yet to be confirmed, it should be noted that her passing came just days after she publicly opened up about her frustrating experience working with Nippon TV on their live-action adaptation of Sexy Tanaka-San, and more specifically the fact that the network wanted to make massive changes to her work in its jump between mediums.

Taking to her personal blog on January 26th, the mangaka relayed to fans, as confirmed by her publisher Shogakukan, that though she was hesitant towards the idea of making a live-action drama s live-action drama out of her series because it was “in the middle of serialization and the ending of the manga had not been determined”, she agreed to do so on the grounds that the network follow a handful of rules:

  • “If you’re going to make it into a drama, be sure to stay faithful to the manga. If it is not faithful to the manga, we will make thorough additions and corrections.”
  • “Since the manga has not been completed, the drama’s original ending must have its own ending.”
  • “The original author will prepare everything from the synopsis to the dialogue so as not to affect the future of the still-unfinished manga.”
  • “As a general rule, please do not change anything prepared by the original author. So regarding the original parts of the drama, it is necessary to imagine someone who can adapt what the original author has prepared into a script as is. In some cases, the original author may write the script.”
Kinami Haruka as Kyoko Tanoko in Sexy Tanoko-san KV (2023), Nippon TV

“We also understood that these conditions were very disrespectful to the scriptwriter, director, and other members of the drama’s production team, so we repeatedly confirmed with NTV through Shogakukan that these conditions were truly acceptable,” Ashihara explained. “So, after confirming many times with NTV through Shogakukan whether these conditions were really acceptable, we started the drama adaptation.”

But despite NTV having positively agreed to Ashihara’s conditions, the frustrated Sand Chronicles author revealed that the network ultimately chose to blatantly disregard them, as they soon “”received scripts that deviated from the manga.”

“Characters with strong personalities, especially Shuri, Konishi, Shingo, were changed to a different character who are far removed from the original,” she detailed. “Scenes that I had carefully depicted as the core of the manga such as attempted sexual assaults, day after pills, the difficulty of men’s lives, long dialogue between Konishi and Shingo are drastically cut or deleted and not depicted properly, and when I asked the reason for this, I received no satisfactory reply.”

akari kazuki
Kazuki Konishi meets with Akari Kurahashi in Sexy Tanaka-san Chapter 1.2 “It’s Not Like I Want To Become Happy – Part 2” (2018), Shogakukan. Words and Art by Hinako Ashihara via digital issue.

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Putting her foot down in the face of this blatant disregard for her creative vision, Ashihara then told the network that “if they were to erase the individuality of Sexy Tanaka-san that I had portrayed, I would even want to stop the dramatization now.”

“I explained politely why I did not want the changes to be made,” she detailed. “After persistently making additions and corrections, I finally managed to complete the scripts for episodes 1 through 7 almost exactly as written in the original story. The producers were the only contact between us and the scriptwriters [Aizawa Tomoko], directors [Inomata Ryuichi and Ito Akinori], and other drama production staff, so we had no way of knowing how the conditions that Shogakukan had initially communicated to NTV for dramatization. I was constantly questioning what had happened to the conditions of the dramatization that we had initially communicated to them, and I was exhausted by the time of the repeated additions and revisions.”

“Again, the original conditions were not followed, and the scripts for episodes 8 through 10, which I had prepared, were submitted together with drastically altered versions,” the mangaka added. “The altered scripts for episodes 9 and 10, in particular, contained many mistakes in belly dance expressions, and I could tell that the belly dance supervisor was not working well with the scriptwriters.”

belly dancing
Akari Kurahashi and Kyoko Tanaka in Sexy Tanaka-san Chapter 1.2 “It’s Not Like I Want To Become Happy – Part 2” (2018), Shogakukan. Words and Art by Hinako Ashihara via digital issue.

“Shogakukan made a proposal to NTV, saying, ‘Of course we will listen to your opinions on missing parts and changes, so we would like you to consult with us separately, not in the form of a script that has been altered,'” Ashihara further recalled. “After that, a drastically revised plot and script were submitted to us. Shogakukan then submitted the scripts and plots with significant changes, and the Shogakukan side returned them to NTV ‘as originally promised’ and the process was repeated several times. In the end, I heard that the chief producer of NTV instructed them to ‘write the script as it was once.'”

“However, about four weeks passed without any change in the situation,” she continued. “As drama’s production schedule approached it’s October deadline, I really wanted to see the scripts for the original content in episodes 8 through 10 to make additions and revisions to the original parts as a whole, but I managed to revise only episode 8 to its original content before making any changes and hand it over to NTV. After hearing about the communication between Shogakukan and NTV regarding episodes 9 and 10, we felt that time was limited, so we formally requested through Shogakukan that the script for episodes 9 and 10 be switched to ‘someone who can adapt the script as prepared by the original author.'”

“I wanted to make a script for episodes 9 and 10 that everyone would be satisfied with, but…I am an amateur writer, so I wrote the scripts without much experience, and I regret that my lack of ability was exposed,” Ashihara confessed. “The deadline for the Sexy Tanaka-san manga also coincided with the [live action’s] deadline, so I had to write the script in a very short period of time, and I regret that I was not able to do more polishing. I understand that some of you may have been dissatisfied with the scripts for episodes 9 and 10. To be honest, I still do not know what the best decision was. Once again, I would like to offer my sincerest apologies.”

The next day, Ashihara deleted all their tweets before posting one final message: “I didn’t mean to attack you. Sorry.”

As of writing, it is unknown exactly who the mangaka’s apology was specifically addressed to.

ashihara tweet
Hinako Ashihara via Twitter

Following Ashihara’s death, Shogakukon and Nippon TV each issued statements addressing both her passing and the accusations she leveled against the live-action series’ production team.

“On the occasion of the passing of manga artist Ms. Hinako Ashihara, we would like to express our respect and gratitude for her great achievements during her lifetime and offer our sincere condolences,” Shogakukun stated. “We deeply apologize to readers, artists, and all parties concerned for any concern that may have been caused by her passing”.

“The group in charge of Sexy Tanaka-san adaptation faithfully and sincerely conveyed Ms. Ashihara’s request to the drama production side, and it was produced,” the publisher further acknowledged. “However, it is with deep regret that we have come to this point. In order to prevent such a tragedy from happening again, we are currently conducting an investigation and will make every effort to prevent a recurrence in the future.”

Meanwhile, Nippon TV asserted, “We were saddened to hear of the passing of Ms. Hinako Ashihara. We would like to express our deepest condolences to her family and friends. Regarding the Sunday drama Sexy Tanaka-san for the October 2023 season. NTV has been discussing the script production process with Ms. Ashihara, the author of the original story, through Shogakukan, the agent of the original story, and has finally obtained his approval for the script, which is now being broadcast. We are grateful to Ms. Ashihara for his efforts in the production of this work.”

Kinami Haruka as Kyoko Tanoko in Sexy Tanoko-san KV (2023), Nippon TV

In a February 3rd interview with AERAdot, Manga Artists Association president and Celestial Rainbow mangaka Machiko Satonaka gave their thoughts on Ashihara’s tragic passing and the mangaka’s blog post.

“I do not know Ms. Ashihara directly, but [based on] her comments on social media, I can tell how seriously she put herself into her work, and I am filled with regret,” she confessed. “I believe that many manga artists, not only myself, feel helpless that we could not do anything as colleagues. It was an event so painful that I cannot find any words to describe it, and to be honest, I would have refused to do an interview about this case if I could have. However, there may be young people who are still suffering alone from the same problems as Ms. Ashihara.”

The mangaka would further encourage that authors who are dealing with a similar situation as the late Ashihara to “please, please, please do not assume that you cannot speak up because you are in a weak position. Please do not be fooled by the illusion that the publisher is more powerful than the author, that the TV station is more powerful than the publisher, or that the sponsor is more powerful than the TV station.”

belly dancing
Akari Kurahashi watching Kyoko Tanaka belly dance in Sexy Tanaka-san Chapter 1.2 “It’s Not Like I Want To Become Happy – Part 2” (2018), Shogakukan. Words and Art by Hinako Ashihara via digital issue.

“The [Japanese] copyright law guarantees the rights of the original creator. People who create something from nothing are strong. So I would like young people to be proud and say with dignity,” she noted. “This is what I want, and if you can’t do it, I refuse to make it into a movie. Sometimes, there may be some unbelievable people who threaten you, saying, “If you resist, you will never be able to draw again. But please do not be fooled.”

“The production team for a visual work is a large one, but the author of a manga is basically one person,” Satonaka added. Moreover, there are many creators who are immersed in the creative world and live by standards different from those of the general public, who are not good at communicating closely with others, consulting with others, or making suggestions. That is why we hope that publishers will protect and support each and every mangaka.”

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